Looking back to move forward

Losing so subserviently to a relegation candidate would usually be enough to provoke an angry tweet or two, if not a call to Franksy on Radio WM, in any given season.

So it feels a tad unnatural to feel somewhat upbeat following our emphatic away loss at Bristol City, not least after five successive wins.

In this instance, the feelgood factor emanates from the confirmation that this squad of players is simply not good enough to challenge for a mid-table Championship finish, let alone a promotion push to the play-offs or beyond.

In simple terms, our squad is nauseatingly average at best. At worst, it is absolutely crap, with last season’s 14th place finish coupled with this perpetually underwhelming campaign, when we’ll probably finish even lower.

Football being as compulsively short-termism as it is, a win at Ashton Gate might have coerced Lambert and Jeff Shi into thinking that we are actually a decent side with minimal reinforcements needed over the summer.

Thank God then, that they were reminded of the side’s unshakable levels of frailty, which should act as a yardstick from which to shape their close-season recruitment drive. (Games against Cardiff City away, Burton away, Birmingham City home, Rotherham home and Wigan home should also act as likewise).

If Fosun’s mid-to-long-term plans are to be taken seriously, then a nostalgic nod to hard-luck failures of yesteryear must be replaced by a hard-nosed search for ruthless winners. It’s that simple.

If – and it’s a big if – we are to get promoted from this hell-hole of a league, we don’t need to look too far from home to understand what is needed to get out.

Central midfield

In 2002/3, a rotated triumvirate of Cameron, Rae and Ince ensured we were not only good enough to last the pace, but actually accelerate into the play-offs with bona-fide momentum. All three would guarantee you a 7/10 performance in virtually every game they played, whenever called upon.

In 2008/09 – our only other comparable year of success – Karl Henry and David Jones were equally consistent, if not completely underrated compared to the three names above, whose cult statuses have long been decreed. The originals, perhaps, so therefore the best? No matter, the maligned Henry, in particular, was the base from which our incredible Championship winning season was formed. He was another 7/10 guaranteed performer week in, week out.

It’s a common theme amongst winners, not least when looking at other successful sides to make hay in the Championship.

For Reading, read Sidwell and Harper. For Bolton Wanderers (on multiple occasions) read Pollock, Sellars and more latterly Per Frandsen. For Sunderland, see Kevin Ball / Lee Clark and didn’t Tigana’s Fulham also feature Clark and John Collins? And while I really don’t want to mention them, I will utter the names McInnes and Greening in two separate Albion seasons.

At present, we don’t have a single player in our squad capable of lacing these players’ boots. Not in terms of metronomic consistency.

David Edwards offers you a 7 (usually if he scores a goal) and anything from a 4 or 5/10 on most other occasions. Maybe Evans could imitate David Jones if a worthy lieutenant was alongside, but ifs and ands are pots and pans.

We haven’t got time to find out, have we? Jack Price, a player I admire greatly, might also be better blessed with a natural leader from somewhere, while Saville and Coady are proven dross.

Saiss, possibly, could thrive in the right environment, but when it’s almost exclusively on the bench, then you sense we’ll probably never find out.

Conclusion

Get ruthless here, because it’s the most critical area of concern, more so than a goalscorer in my humble opinion.

Saville, Coady*, Evans, Edwards can all go.

Prince and Saiss probably already have, going by the comments made about foreigners by Thelwell in a recent FP and the need for a 75% / 25% split between domestic and foreign players.

Ronan has shown plenty to suggest he can play a part, but one midfield general is needed from somewhere.

*Unless deployed exclusively as a right back

Defence

Many fans hanker after a modern day version of Joleon Lescott or Dean Richards – and with good reason. They were class acts.

But more than individual flair at the heart of the back four is a need for a genuine partnership between two preferred players, whoever they might be.

The unassuming but no-nonsense Paul Butler assumed rock-like proportions alongside the prodigious Lescott in 2003, while a defender cut from the same cloth as Butler came back into the fold to see us over the line in 2008/09 – Jody Craddock.

Bells and whistles aren’t so critical in central defence – muck and nettles are.

I refer back once more to that all conquering Reading team, with mainstays Sonko and Ingimarsson forming the foundations. QPR would get promoted with Clint Hill and Elphick with Bournemouth.

Conclusion

It looks like Danny Batth and Kortney House are our current first choice pairing.

They don’t stack up unfavourably on paper to the many individuals with championship medals from previous seasons, as per above.

But they still lack that rumbustious sense of leadership that any successful side craves.

They need help and we need to strengthen. Asking Ethan Ebanks-Landell to meet the requisite levels of consistency is asking a lot, while Williamson has been a laughable waste of money, even if he does hint at those levels that are needed.

Bring in a proven centre half.

Strikers

Of all the positions to remedy in the summer, this one is it.

It needs no explanation. In 2002/03 Kenny Miller and Nathan Blake scored plenty, while we all remember Big Chris and Sylvain a few years later.

Conclusion

I have a hunch that Bodvarsson could be a better bet to come good next season than Dicko, whose track record might be more compelling, but appears to have lost that intuitive knack he once had of being in the right place at the right time. And on the few occasions he is, he misses.

When I say ‘come good’, I mean 10 to 12 goals over the course of the season.

If both are sold then they can have no complaints. Joe Mason should be sold. Can we hang our hat on a player like him?

Lambert then has to bring in TWO strikers to consign the above to long term substitute options. One could be a ‘number 10’ to replace Mason.

If we’re playing David Edwards for much of next season because we’re ‘relying on his goals’ then we can forget about promotion.

So quality – and quantity – is required here as the cupboard is bare.

Wingers

As far as Wolves’ DNA goes, if not a promotion push itself, then nothing gets the turnstiles ticking quite like a cocksure winger in full flow, in complete and utter faith in his own ability.

Hancocks, Mullen, Wagstaffe. Even Daley and Froggatt were a nod to our heritage, albeit a fatal one as luck would have it.

Mark Kennedy was the mercurial one back in 2002/03 who got bums off seats quite unlike any other player that year, even if he did frustrate at times. Shaun Newton more ‘Robin’ to the Irish Batman, offering a steadying level of consistency which often went unnoticed (see Wolves’ second goal v Newcastle in that FA Cup game as an example).

We were just spoilt rotten with Kightly and Jarvis under Mick. to have one of those was a blessing. Two was downright taking the mickey, which we did on a regular basis to opposing teams.

And then there was Bakary Sako, who we all loved mostly because he was a player to electrify – and partly because he represented the very antithesis of the anaemic last knockings of the McCarthy era.

So to ask for two players of Helder Costa’s ilk is wishful thinking. To have Costa in the first place might be a long shot in itself, going by the general undertones which accompany each man-of-the-match performance.

Conclusion

Just to keep Costa alone is as big a statement as signing him in the first place.

Call me old fashioned but I like a winger with pace – and obviously consistency. This means the jury is still out on Cavaleiro for me. In Weimann (should he sign) and Marshall, we have adept operators to add some balance, both of whom are good enough to sustain a promotion challenge.

Of course, Ivan could continue as a crowd pleasing match winner too.

Basically, sign Weimann and keep Costa.

Goalkeeper

Ikeme is more than good enough. I maintain he’s a better keeper than Hennessey.

Conclusion

Lonergan will be released. Burgoyne will deputise no doubt, which would please me.

Full backs

Hardly a position to shift the necessary number of season tickets to trigger the refund, but an important one.

Matt Doherty should play a significant role in a tilt for the Promised Land. Coady can only be seen as a stop gap on the right, albeit an effective one.

The bigger conundrum is Dominic Iorfa, whose career is in inverse mode. He does possess mobility, and I refuse to believe that a player can lose all of the virtues that made him so eye-catching under Jackett.

Conclusion

A left footed left back is a must.

And finally…

In our only two seasons of success in this league – not to mention all of those other sides who’ve eventually conquered – they all shared one common trait that every successful side needs: Luck!

By luck, I mean keeping key players fit for a good 75% of the season. This is not something that can be controlled entirely, but Lambert will surely have taken note of the Mike Williamson debacle, if not Joe Mason as well.

It’s a big ask to get out of this season, even with all the resources under the sun as we all know from bitter experience. Curle, Richards, Keane and Bully just a few legends never to have managed it in a Wolves shirt.

It will be far from easy. BUT by being ruthless, with the onus on finding consistent performers, it can be done!

Bloggers Ball 2017 – Update

Just a quick update folks.

Daytime Activity

Whilst we are gathering in A Park View Hotel on the Saturday (6th May) I am aware that some of you bloggers may not intend to arrive until Sunday to take in the match.

We will still be there in the morning prior to leaving to meet the 12.00 kick off, so please pop in for a quick pint or coffee or whatever on the Sunday if you wish.

Saturday is purely to get as many of us together as possible and if past gatherings are anything to go by I am sure you will all enjoy a good day, even if you intend to be there for just a short time, or if you intend to “hang one on”.

Come along and get involved.

Evening Meal

At time of going to print, I have received all menu choices bar three which I am expecting at the end of the week, so all is good.

I have spoken to Sat at APV and she is content to locate us in the main dining room, but she did want us to reach a figure of 27 diners. I have 23.

We have space for up to 30 diners. Come on …… you know you want to.

Our guests are confirmed as Steve Daley, Willie Carr and Phil Parkes.

As there has not been a real interest in a theme, and taking into consideration that there will be a number of attending guests, it has been decided that the “dress code” for the evening meal will be smart casual.

It is intended for one or two “activities” to take place during the evening, and if all goes horribly wrong I will refrain from placing the blame on theDOOGooder and Bedford Wolf.

All in all, everything seems to be going as planned. All I ask now is that as many of you as possible come along and enjoy the day.

Brompton Wolf

Bristol City 3 Wolves 1

Paul Lambert thinks we’re better than this performance.

But despite five consecutive victories, the painful truth is we’re not.

A season of mediocrity (and at times much, much worse) has taught us that this occasional brand of meek surrender is par for the course.

I said last week that the team we fielded against Cardiff had the potential to crack the top six, but with just two changes in personnel our heroes wilted to zeros at Ashton Gate.

Morgan Gibbs-White and Nouha Dicko are players I have a lot of time for. One has shown huge potential and the other has already done enough in old gold to warrant considerable slack on his return from career threatening injury.

But the fluency that Ivan Cavaleiro and to a far greater extent Helder Costa bring to this Wolves team is considerable. We’re not the same without them.

Add to that Andi Weimann’s endless running up top when played in his primary position and these subtle variations on our first choice eleven present very different propositions.

Dicko was again wasteful, spurning the afternoon’s clearest sight of goal to put Wolves ahead and pile the pressure onto vulnerable opposition.

Instead it was they who got ahead and used that lead as a platform to build a convincing home victory with goals at the ideal moments.

You’re always dealing with the finest of margins in the Championship, so wasting the big opportunities is usually the difference between success and failure.

I’m not heaping the blame for this loss on Nouha Dicko – far from it. We could have benefited from stronger defending or better fortune for all three of their goals, but the point is you’ve got to be efficient.

And Wolves are not efficient.

It routinely takes them three or four chances to score a goal and cleansheets are rarer than rocking horse droppings.

Paul Lambert has a summer to turn this talented but far too often flaky squad into something more convincing.

Until then, I don’t think anyone should expect better.

Bristol City Vs Wolves Preview

Only Wolves could lose five matches in a row and then reel off five consecutive wins.

It’s just as well it didn’t happen the other way around as we’d all be feeling pretty suicidal now about the play off dream being over.

As it is we’re happy to be staying up. The warped psychology of football in a nutshell.

One target we should aim for is beating last season’s points tally of 58 points and a 14th place finish, which would provide another morale boosting sense of progress.

Bristol City

After a tidy start it’s been a constant downward spiral for Lee Johnson’s team this season.

It’s looking like a coin toss between the Robins and Blackburn for the final relegation spot but Notts Forest are also hovering ominously.

City’s next three fixtures are this one, QPR at home and then a trip to Ewood Park, which already looks season defining.

As most of their good results this term have come at home they’ll want to go into that match with a few more points on the board.

They’ve got match winners like Tomlin and Abraham but seem to wilt when the pressure is on. A 5-0 walloping at Preston in midweek was so bad their players are offering to refund the travelling fans.

Wolves

The only question for Paul Lambert is whether Helder Costa is fit enough to play. If he is the starting eleven picks itself.

Although Nouha Dicko got his goal the team wasn’t anywhere near as fluent without our star performer against Forest.

Personally I think he’s a definite goner in the summer so we might as well rinse him for all he’s worth while we’be got the chance.

Predictions

Expecting them to throw the kitchen sink at us in the early exchanges but if we can weather those moments I can’t see us failing to create chances of our own.

It will be tight but this is usually a good fixture for us and I can see them folding under the pressure.

2-1.

Up the Wolves!

Wolves 1 Nottingham Forest 0

With four wins in succession, a dizzying Helder Costa goal still fresh in the memory and an eminently winnable fixture against Nottingham Forest ahead, the walk along Waterloo Road had never felt so breezy.

But alas, no Costa.

And while we were all thrilled to notch up a fifth win come the final whistle, it was an insight into how bereft we are without him.

For his spellbinding goal of the weekend against Cardiff, see compatriot Cavaleiro doing his best impression, sending the corner flag one way, then the other – after kicking the base of it when taking a short corner and getting it stuck between his legs.

It was a moment to define this particular spectacle but not the performance entirely, as we worked ferociously hard for the duration, to such an extent that you felt tired out just watching them.

Batth and Hause combined teak-toughness with intelligence, surely benefiting from the Evans / Edwards protection ahead of them.

Whether the team as a whole then benefits from the required amount of creativity thereafter is debateable but again, the Welshmen worked their backsides off admirably, hassling and harrying their opponents.

This was no small feature of the game, with Forest enjoying the lions’ share of possession and were surely frustrated as a result of our endeavours off the ball.

Marshall, while mildly more subdued that recent performances, again suggested he has the ability to be a mainstay of a promotion pushing side next season, while Andi Weimann’s contributions just get more and more noteworthy.

His outrageous work-rate off the ball was infectious and his assist for Dicko’s goal intelligent, representing one of very few moments where the right decision was made at the right time.

A potential man-of-the-match winner, possibly shading Conor Coady at right back, whose heroic intervention on the goal line not only acted as an unlikely assist for the winner 15 seconds later, but typified his recent performances in an alien position, which I would have scarcely thought believable weeks ago.

On the other flank, one of Matt Doherty’s customary forays upfield ended in a lovely pass to Weimann, who did the rest for Dicko to sweep home.

It was a beautifully worked moment from a pretty ugly affair, which resembled a practice match at times, and an unwitting homage to Helder Costa at others.

Quite where we’d be without him is anyone’s guess. Thankfully after this hard fought league win, it won’t be League One.

Wolves Vs Nottingham Forest Preview

Different teams present different challenges in this league, which is why you can never be sure about the result from one game to the next.

In Fulham and Cardiff, you couldn’t play two more contrasting sides so it’s pleasing that Wolves found a way to come out on top against both.

You look at the league table, our recent form and generally what’s been going on at the City Ground this season and you’d fancy us to make it five wins in five.

But the Championship rarely pans out like that and I expect Forest to provide a similarly stern test.

Forest

Admittedly, I know little about this current Forest outfit but they’ve got some useful individuals and a manager who seems to know what he’s doing.

That usually gets you most of the way there in this league, which is why I expect them to (just about) avoid relegation and come back stronger next time.

But Mark Warburton need only look at the table to know there isn’t much margin for error with just seven games to go.

They’re just two places and two points above the bottom three and have only managed two wins in their last ten matches.

Gutsy draws against Derby and Preston will have helped instill belief but their run-in isn’t too favourable so pressure is building.

Wolves

If he can name the same team again I think Paul Lambert should do just that. Why mess with the winning formula?

I’d put Ikeme back in if he’s fit and ready, but it’s as you were with the outfield personnel.

My gut instinct is he won’t be able to resist giving the likes of Bodvarsson, Dicko and Saville a run out, but he leaves himself open for criticism if the result then doesn’t go our way.

One more win should see us safe (looking at the remaining fixtures for everyone else) and this is as good a chance as any to get it, so we shouldn’t be saving legs just yet.

Andy Lonergan

Predictions

Got to be confident after four straight wins. Forest have the second worst away record in the league too. Only Rotherham have amassed less points.

Most bookies have us at a comfortable 5/6 for the win compared to Forest’s 10/3. If you’re confident and fancy a punt you may want to check out sites like Bonus Codes to browse the major free bet offers beforehand.

I think there’s lots of goals and creativity in this Wolves squad so even allowing for a new manager bounce, I expect us to do enough to keep this run going.

2-1.

Up The Wolves!