Archives for February 2018

Fulham Vs Wolves Preview

This is one of those fixtures you start fretting about weeks in advance.

Had we got the win over Norwich, I would have viewed it as a free hit with the two points per game average already in the bag for February.

But alas, the stoppage time heartbreaker leaves us with 8 points from 4 matches, so anything but a win in this one will see us fall short of that particular benchmark.

I still look at our remaining fixtures, those of the chasers and the head start and struggle to see us throwing it away.

I’ve been wrong before though.

Fulham

As they did last season, Fulham started slow and have gradually picked up the pace. The only difference being this time they could still gatecrash the automatic shake up.

They’re not going to catch us, but the eight point deficit to Cardiff is more achievable if they sustain their current form.

Five wins and two draws from their last seven makes them the league’s top dogs and they’ve scored some notable successes in that run.

Villa were brushed aside in their last game at Craven Cottage and they backed it up with a solid point at Ashton Gate in midweek.

Aleksandar Mitrovic was a notable deadline day addition and the big striker adds to a frontline already boasting the correctly hyped Ryan Sessegnon who is still, unbelievably, just 17 years old.

Wolves

I’ve been repressing the idea Neves would eventually get that tenth booking of the season, but it was always coming.

With the maestro out and Costa possibly injured, I would be sorely tempted to return to frontline that got us moving in the early parts of the campaign.

If Leo is fit and firing, I’d like to see him linking the play and bringing Jota and Cavaleiro into the game.

Saiss and N’Diaye must start in midfield. I like Gibbs-White but I just don’t think he’s ready to anchor the team in such a crucial part of the pitch.

John Ruddy came in for some deserved stick after letting that late goal slip through his grasp, but I think it’s too late in the season to be making a change between the sticks. It could de-stabilise the whole defence and isn’t worth the risk.

Predictions

Getting a result against the division’s in form team after such a kick in the guts against Norwich would be another huge statement.

But being honest, I can see this one getting away from us.

Without Neves I’m concerned that we won’t control the midfield and against such a good attacking side, that could be crucial.

I fear defeat but will back us to get what would be a very tidy point.

1-1.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 2 Norwich City 2

Like many of you doubtlessly were, I was seething at full time.

I imagine the subject of most attendees’ ire will be at referee James Linington and fourth official Andy Woolmer for their timekeeping, but in truth neither can be accused of influencing this result.

Sure, the former was a little on the whistle happy side but when two teams move the ball with the sort of pace that Wolves and Norwich do, fouls will always be conceded.

Unlike many of those sat around me in the North Bank, I didn’t really begrudge any of the decisions that went the way of the visitors.

On tonight’s evidence, Daniel Farke is building a very decent side that should contend for promotion next year.

Their chances will of course hinder on whether they keep James Maddison, who is without doubt the best opposition player I’ve seen play live this season.

I thought he was tremendous this evening, and will be keeping my fingers crossed that the rumours of our interest in signing him are true.

But that’s enough about Norwich. The real reason we slipped up tonight, a potentially unpopular opinion though it may be, is because Nuno got his substitutions horribly (and uncharacteristically) wrong.

In the first half, Costa and Cavaleiro were enjoying the freedom of Molineux against the Canaries’ full backs.

Both were instrumental in creating the space needed to craft the opener, with their direct running also contributing to the healthy tally of dead ball situations we racked up in the early throes of the game.

The second goal was conjured from one of those exact situations, Douglas again delivering the goods and allowing N’Diaye to net his second goal in three games.

Our dreams of a Molineux rout to match the recent Sheffield United game were dashed, however, by a quick Norwich response served up by Maddison and scored by the imposing Christoph Zimmermann.

This led to a typically nervy end to the first half, though few would be fearing a second half quite as arduous as the one we were made to endure.

Costa’s removal at the break was seemingly down to a knock sustained during the first 45, one which had admittedly slowed him down.

But the decision to hook Cavaleiro – arguably our best player as of late – when Norwich were in the ascendancy was baffling.

I’m not going to dig Benik Afobe out too much given he is still in the early throes of his feted Molineux return, but his signing looks a gesture of pure romanticism at present.

Contributing precisely nothing to our performance, he was more a hinderance tonight than anything else.

Let’s hope we’ll be able to put this down to stage fright in the near future, but Leo Bonatini and Rafa Mir must be feeling slighted whilst twiddling their thumbs.

The lack of width caused by Costa and Cavaleiro’s removal left the opposition with plenty of space to play with and, though few shots on goal were resultantly mustered, an equaliser began to feel more and more of an inevitability as the game dragged on due to their possessional dominance.

After Morgan Gibbs-White, mightily impressive once again, spurned a great chance to put the game to bed it felt as if the ink had dried on a grisly script and, sure enough, the scores were level at the death thanks to Nelson Oliviera’s speculative piledriver.

With Cardiff increasingly breathing down our necks, things are about as close to squeaky bum time as they’ve been all campaign.

Alas, we’ve done enough so far to suggest that there’s no cause for anything other than slight concern. Saturday’s game against a flying Fulham side will no doubt prove difficult, but we’ve said that before plenty of big games this season and come out smiling.

Let’s hope we do again.

Wolves Vs Norwich City Preview

If Wolves can keep getting the job done at Molineux, any point gained on the road can be considered a bonus.

With Reading, Burton, Hull, Blues and Sheffield Wednesday still to pay a visit after tomorrow’s game against Norwich, victory in all the above matches against midtable or lower opposition would give us 90 points.

That doesn’t include the Derby match either.

If favourable fixtures and a giant head start aren’t enough to instil confidence, I still think there’s a good level of consistency in the performances.

Norwich

Thanks to Canaries fan Rob from City of Yellows for sending over the following perspective from the away end:

When Wolves travelled to Carrow Road earlier in the season they were, and still are, a country mile the best side to play at the Carra.

The movement, the pace, the directness and the way Wanderers attacked in numbers helped to produce a comfortable 2-0 win. City were still finding their way under new manager Daniel Farke with a new playing style and many new recruits.

The philosophy of Farke is starting to have an impact with the playing style often featuring very slow build up with three at the back, two holding midfielders, Jame Maddison and Josh Murphy roaming attacking midfielders and Nélson Oliveria leading the line.

Another trait of City is that as the game progresses, the team get stronger – thanks to double training sessions and lots of running. So if City can keep the game level for as long as possible, a late winner (or equaliser) may be on the cards.

A goal a game is currently the trend, so unless Wolves can conjure up the same performance as earlier in the season, expect a 0-0 or a 1-0 which could go either way.

Best wishes for the remainder of the season and your assault on the Premier League.

Betting

Wolves are resounding 8/13 favourites to come out victorious according to William Hill. The draw is 13/5 and Norwich are 5/1. To get the best return on your stake visit Topbettingsites.com for the latest offers and bonus bets.

Wolves

I might be in the minority but I’d give Benik Afobe a start tomorrow:

There have already been murmurs of discontent about a lack of goals, but come on guys, he’s only had three appearances off the bench. It’s not enough to make a fair assessment.

Yes, a few decent openings have come and gone in those cameos, but at least he’s getting the chances. We need to see what he can do from the start before being able to accurately assess whether or not he can improve this side.

Elsewhere, it’s difficult to see any obvious changes, unless of course Nuno feels Saiss should get back in or Bonatini is a better option in attack.

Predictions

Norwich are decent on their travels, but they don’t score many home or away, which doesn’t bode well against the highest scorers in the league.

That said, they gave Arsenal and Chelsea a real run for their money in the cup competitions so have form for stepping it up against better opposition.

I like Daniel Farke as a coach and I really like James Maddison (hint, hint Fosun), but hopefully Wolves have enough to nullify their threat.

3-1.

Up The Wolves!

Preston North End 1 Wolves 1

Alex Neil believes his team probably would have won this game had they kept 11 men on the pitch.

He might have a point.

They certainly nullified our attackers for much of this scrappy contest and deservedly got themselves ahead.

A turbo injected start to the second half saw them strike the post before powering home the opener from a set piece. Wolves were wobbling and it looked a treacherous road back.

But the fact Preston didn’t finish with a full complement of players isn’t the result of some hard luck story.

Our front three were routinely chopped and hacked all afternoon so when Ivan Cavaleiro’s breakaway was deliberately halted by John Welsh, the midfielder got exactly what he deserved.

That’s not necessarily a criticism.

Preston got themselves into the ascendancy by pressing high and tackling hard to restrict Wolves space to play, but that is always likely to encourage punishment from the referee. The point being you’ve got to live and die by the sword.

Credit to them for digging in after the red card to deny the league leaders a fourth successive win.

Had Helder Costa not bundled his way through to score an equaliser minutes later, it could have been even better for the hosts.

That’s two in two for last season’s player of the year, whose best form is still yet to fully bubble to the surface.

Nuno threw on Benik Afobe in search of the goal that would have extended his side’s lead at the top, but after the keeper smothered his only clear sighter, that was pretty much that.

Neves tried his luck from distance and an ever growing contingent of gold shirts camped out in the attacking third, but nothing was getting through.

You can question the coach’s tactical choices, but as he said afterwards, once Preston were down to 10, they surrendered any and all attacking intent in favour of keeping every body behind the ball. In that instance, there’s only so much you can do.

Invariably at this stage of the season when you don’t get the maximum, attention turns elsewhere and with Villa coming unstuck at Craven Cottage and Derby losing to Sheffield Wednesday the other night, this wasn’t an unsatisfactory outcome to the week.

It’s another of the more difficult fixtures checked off the list, one game closer and still nothing but clear road ahead.

Preston North Ends Vs Wolves Preview

Our previous encounter with Preston should serve as a reminder about the ever present danger of this competition.

Wolves had that game won – three goals to the good midway through the second half – but it ended up being uncomfortably close in the final moments.

It was similar against QPR last weekend.

If you let your guard down for a moment, expect a violent slap in the chops. That was literally the case for Diogo Jota of course.

I am as certain as you can be in football that this team will be promoted well before the start of May, but they owe it to themselves to finish as they started, which is to say, miles ahead of everyone else.

Preston

I did a podcast earlier in the week with a Preston fan and admitted to him I was surprised they’d managed to remain in play-off contention.

Not only do they have one of the lowest budgets in the league, but they’ve had to endure various injuries and cope with the loss of their star player in January.

Yet they’re still there, hanging onto the coat tails of the top six and scrapping it out for every point available. They could easily have won at Brentford last time out, which would have left them only a point below Bristol City.

Alex Neil is up against it again tomorrow with a couple of their better performers suspended. Skipper Greg Cunningham and influential midfielder Ben Pearson the two to miss out.

They’ve won six, drawn six and lost three of their 15 games at Deepdale. That puts them midtable in terms of home form, but underlines how difficult they are to beat.

Betting

No surprise Wolves are odds on to win this one at 5/4 with Bet365. Preston are 13/5 and the draw is 23/10. And if you are looking to place some wagers make sure to check the best sportsbooks to get the best return on your initial stake.

Wolves

25 minutes of spellbinding play and some backs to the wall defending was enough to see off QPR.

I did feel it was one of very few games lately that Wolves have surrendered control to the opposition. Hopefully they dictate better and for longer at Deepdale.

I’m loathe to change a winning team but maybe this one might be a good opportunity for Benik Afobe? His pace and physicality on a tight pitch will come in handy.

It would be nice to have Romain Saiss back even if it’s only on the bench. He’s good at calming the momentum when the opposition get on top, which is something we could have done with last weekend.

Predictions

Sometimes you get a particular fixture at the right time and with their suspensions coupled with the loss of James Hugill, this looks like a good opportunity for another maximum.

It’s never easy at Preston so I’m not expecting a cruise, but I think we’ll do what’s required.

2-1.

Up The Wolves.

Wolves 2 QPR 1

There was a time, not so long ago in fact, that practically every victory played out like this one.

Buttocks clenched tight as crosses rain down in the final moments, stray passes being intercepted in dangerous areas of the pitch and a goalkeeper with sudden onset butter fingers.

We’ve been spoilt this season with Premier League quality, but that second half was real Championship fare.

By the finish QPR can count themselves unlucky not to have taken a point.

Ruddy for all his juggling, produced one fine save to keep his team ahead and Conor Coady performed his trademark goal line heroics as Wolves hobbled over the line.

A thrilling climax that never should have materialised after a first half in which the league leaders established clear water.

Two well worked goals, a hatful of chances wasted and barely out of second gear. Things have never felt easier.

Maybe that was the problem?

But if complacency contributed, Ian Holloway must take credit for whatever he said and did at half time.

Big Matt Smith came on and won everything, they pressed higher and harder and once the door creaked open, they were hammering to get through.

Nuno will be disappointed by the goal conceded. Nobody was switched on for the short corner and after Ruddy clawed out the first attempt, his defence were second to the rebound.

After that it was real helter-skelter stuff with hooped shirts swarming all over the pitch and cross after cross after long throw after cross had to be repelled.

The whole side looked unusually ruffled but credit to Boly, Coady and in particular Bennett who stood up strong to the bombardment.

Midfield was where this game turned. Once we’d stopped controlling possession, it gave QPR a foothold to launch diagonal balls forward.

Saiss would have been the man to bring on, but with the Moroccan still absent it fell on Gibbs-White to help plug the gaps. He’s a talented technician but wasn’t the answer to the problem.

Wolves were still, as always, dangerous on the break and could have got the resistance killing goal had Afobe or Jota found the finish.

But it mattered not, ultimately, with the 70 point barrier now in the rear view mirror.

It’s all still firmly in our hands and nerves, thankfully, are for days gone by.