Stalemate at Molineux as Zenga remains unbeaten
I’d well and truly had my fill of home 0-0 draws last season. While this game won’t live long in the memory, it wasn’t as anaemic as last season’s goalless offerings, we did at least look to try to attack and we ended up lacking for quality rather it being any tactical failing on the part of the manager. Off the back of a League Cup exit and a defeat at Brentford, Ipswich looked happy from the outset to sit back and look for a point as their primary aim and it was one they fully merited by the end, even if their football won’t win any aesthetic plaudits.
There was a reshuffle at the back with Kortney Hause coming back into the team at the expense of George Saville and Conor Coady moving back into midfield. For the moment our resources are stretched so thinly that meaningful rotation, especially in the attacking areas, isn’t on the agenda at the moment and we looked noticeably leggy in comparison to Saturday. Our new signings all played very little pre-season football at their previous clubs and even our existing players didn’t have a huge amount of minutes under their belt as we set an oddly barren pre-season schedule. The intensity applied to our pressing against Reading coupled with this state of less than optimum match fitness meant we weren’t able to harry Ipswich in the same way; worth bearing in mind too that the visitors gave us nothing like the opportunities to play our own game that we had on Saturday. We aren’t always going to play teams as malleable as Reading were and we knew Ipswich – likely to be a solid mid-table outfit this season – would provide a much stiffer test.
With Lee Evans once again playing a deep role in front of the back four, it was left to Coady and Dave Edwards to press from midfield and link with the front three. Fairly predictably, this didn’t even begin to work. You might get away with one of them in a midfield three but not both. They just don’t possess the requisite technical ability to offer much more than aimless chasing around – Coady looks a much better right back than he does central midfielder at this stage – and this left both Joe Mason and Joao Teixeira out of the game for much of the first half, though the latter showed his customary silky touches whenever he did get the ball. Edwards was withdrawn at half time having offered virtually nothing positive and was replaced by George Saville who subsequently looked the brightest of our midfielders; he does at least look to get on the ball and attempt forward passes even if the quality isn’t always there.
Not much blame should be attached to Jon Dadi Bodvarsson for his penalty miss; it was a decent enough strike, low down and produced a fine save from Bartosz Bialkowski. The award was as nailed on as you’ll see all season but sadly the Icelander couldn’t take the opportunity that he’d fashioned for himself; thereafter he faded, not for lack of effort and was replaced by Helder Costa midway through the second half. He, in turn, had a positive substitute appearance though it is noticeable that he is extremely slight at this stage and may need to be eased gently into Championship football. However, one piece of outrageous skill near the right touchline demonstrated the sheer skill that he has and there’s enough about him to suggest that he’ll have an impact at some stage. Mason was pushed into the central striker’s role but struggled against physical centre halves and the jury remains very much out on him.
At the back, we weren’t overly troubled; goalkeeping coach Pat Mountain helpfully pointed out after the game that we’ve now kept clean sheets in six of our last seven league games at Molineux (the sole goal being a late penalty by Lewis McGugan in the end of season dead rubber against Sheffield Wednesday). While questions can certainly be asked of the back four in terms of quality on the ball should we be looking to play a more possession-based game, we look a lot more solid in home games than the horrors of last autumn and early winter where opposition teams were walking through us at will. Ipswich’s first half disallowed goal looked harsh from the other end of the stadium although reports this morning have suggested that it was ruled out for a marginal offside in front of Carl Ikeme. We almost conceded a late winner after Ikeme fumbled a ball into the box, but Danny Batth was able to get back and clear off the line. From open play there weren’t many alarms to speak of and Ipswich showed little inclination to seriously push for the win in the final 25 minutes.
Overall, this was a performance which showcased the areas where we still need significant improvement in order to compete at the top end of the division. It’s encouraging that Zenga seems to recognise that work still needs to be done and given the hand he has been dealt in the short term, has got the side well organised for the most part and at least looking like we can dismiss any fears of a relegation battle. We shall have to see what the remainder of the transfer window brings in order to properly assess our prospects, but it’s fair to say that from 2-0 down inside 25 minutes at Rotherham on the opening day, I’d have been more than satisfied with five points from the opening three games with no further goals conceded. Last night was a hard earned point against a side who’ll make every team work for results against them; in the grand scheme of things, an acceptable result at this stage though as time goes on we will look to progress from this kind of display and outcome.
Carl Ikeme: Did drop a couple of late crosses but I’d rather he be coming for those kind of balls than be rooted to his line as he was for the bulk of last season. Generally he did well at cutting out the threat from out wide and hopefully his confidence is beginning to be restored.
Dominic Iorfa: Moved back to right back, he wasn’t tested defensively in any meaningful way and did try to get forward when possible. I suspect his longer term future is in the centre, but we all know that very few wingers are going to get the better of him at this level when he’s at full back. One of the positive (and overlooked) aspects of our takeover is that he’s still at the club whereas it’s a racing certainty that he’d be gone by now were we still limping along under absentee ownership.
Danny Batth: Dealt with the threat of Daryl Murphy without much fuss and did as well as he could to pass the ball out from the back. Much improved showing in these first two home games than anything he offered up last season. Late clearance showed good concentration in the late stages and saved us a point. Man of the Match.
Kortney Hause: Untroubled on his return to the starting XI, does sometimes get a little flustered in possession which is something he needs to work on. Certainly playing all of him, Iorfa and Batth means that very few teams will have forwards that are able to physically bully us.
Matt Doherty: Another decent game, no alarms defensively and offered a decent outlet down the left at times. We do need a dedicated left back though; his constant cutting onto his right harms our build up play, for one thing we can’t knock a simple ball down the line on that side and we become very predictable whenever attacks build down the left. The question with him is always focus, he needs to maintain the levels he’s shown in the last week.
Lee Evans: His ball retention statistics always look good and he has the trust of the management for now, however you would have to ask how much of his passing actually hurts teams. Might need to be deployed further up the park as we progress. A few unnecessary catcalls from the crowd as he looked to keep possession and build an attack.
Dave Edwards: Completely anonymous and rightly hooked at the break. Has never had the ability to impact games on the ball and his running seems diminished these days too. Not offering anything in this shape and would seem to be the first candidate to be replaced when Prince Oniangue is in contention for a starting spot.
Conor Coady: Put himself around but doesn’t have the quality to push forward into the final third. Customary lax touch at times. May have been worth switching him and Evans at some stage, looks more comfortable at full back.
Joe Mason: An ineffective game, delayed a shooting opportunity in the first half (which is becoming a common theme) and made little impact when played centrally. Nouha Dicko’s impending return should have him looking over his shoulder.
Joao Teixeira: Not quite the sparkle of his first two displays but still showed plenty of class on the ball. Some robust treatment from the Ipswich players but nothing malicious or overly rough and it’s up to him to adapt to that. Always wants the ball and always plays ‘head up’, which are good signs.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson: Looked a little jaded and may have been one of those that Zenga was referring to when he suggested he’d have been forced into changes had this been a 3pm kick off. Won the penalty from nothing with his trademark 100% effort and was thwarted by a good save.
Subs: George Saville (for Edwards, 45); looked to carry the ball forward with greater purpose than his other partners. Helder Costa (for Bodvarsson, 65); one sublime piece of skill, one decent late effort from range. Jed Wallace (for Teixeira, 84); no time to make an impact.