First taste of an English derby for Zenga
After starting his reign in fairly traumatic fashion – going two goals down to a bookie’s relegation favourite inside 25 minutes on the opening day is hardly the stuff of dreams – it’s been reasonable and steady progress for Walter Zenga’s Wolves so far, as we have yet to concede any further goals in the league and have managed to produce enough coherent football to suggest that at very least, we won’t be looking over our shoulders at the bottom six this season. Saturday brings a new test for him in the form of a local derby, though Zenga should be well versed in them from his many years of playing in the Inter vs AC Milan encounters as well as his itinerant managerial career. The Championship has started in a typically chaotic early season shape with no teams managing to pick up maximum points from their opening three games; the opportunity is there for any number of clubs to steal an early march while more fancied outfits attempt to bed down before the transfer window closes.
It’s fair to say that above all else, the midfield we sent out on Tuesday against Ipswich was a key factor in our failure to reliably test the visitors’ backline. It’s apparent this is a key area where we need improvements if we’re to challenge this season and with that in mind it’s extremely welcome to hear that Prince Oniangue is available and ready to make his debut. Don’t be fooled by the 6’3” stature and imposing physique, he’s an attacking player rather than a destroyer and should be tasked with linking with and supporting our front three. It’s unclear at this stage whether bringing Kortney Hause back into the starting XI in midweek was a specific tactical ploy for that game or whether he’s merely back in favour; until we see a run of 8-10 games under Zenga we can’t tell whether he favours rotation at the back or what his default preferred combination is. As it is, it’ll be flip a coin time as to whether he stays in or Dominic Iorfa is shifted back into the centre of defence with Conor Coady at right back. The attacking positions look after themselves as options remain thin as it stands; Nouha Dicko may play some part in the League Cup game against Cambridge on Tuesday but realistically we have to be looking for him to be making an impact after the international break with only 45 minutes of U23 football under his belt at this stage. Idrissa Sylla of Anderlecht has once again been linked with an impending move to Molineux; it’s apparent that we do need additional depth in the striking department even when Dicko returns as we’re currently going into our league games without a dedicated striker on the bench, as Zenga appears to consider Bright Enobakhare and Niall Ennis unsuitable even for bench duties for the time being.
Dominic Iorfa – Danny Batth – Kortney Hause – Matt Doherty
Prince Oniangue – Lee Evans – George Saville
Joe Mason – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – Joao Teixeira
Subs: Andy Lonergan, Sylvain Deslandes, Conor Coady, Jack Price, Jed Wallace, Dave Edwards, Helder Costa.
Blues have got off to an identical start to Wolves with a win and two draws from the opening three fixtures, although they did contrive to lose at home to Oxford in the League Cup. Ex-Wolf Craig Davies denied them an even better start to the season by bagging a late equaliser in their midweek encounter at Wigan. There’s little doubt that Gary Rowett has had City punching well above their weight in his time at St Andrews; picking up the detritus left by Lee Clark in the wake of an 8-0 home defeat, he dragged them to comfortable safety from a seemingly hopeless position in his first season in charge and then had them flirting with the playoffs for three quarters of the last campaign only for them to ultimately run out of steam and end the season with only one win in their final 12 fixtures. Despite the financial constraints still gripping Blues – the club remains nominally under the control of Carson Yeung’s BIH group despite him now entering his third year of incarceration in Hong Kong after money laundering convictions – Rowett has managed this impressive progress though low cost signings, a tight tactical philosophy and an approach to the game which is becoming more and more prevalent in recent times; possession is no longer king. Blues don’t look to actively control games, instead letting the opposition have the ball, trusting themselves to soak up pressure and hit teams on the break. For instance on Tuesday night, they mustered a mere 29% possession. The results have, relatively speaking, been exceptional but it was noticeable that in a rare moment of tactical triumph last season, Kenny Jackett played the situation in the corresponding fixture to his advantage by putting the onus on the home side having the ball – a state of affairs they appeared completely uncomfortable with, barely having an attack worthy of note and being deservedly beaten 2-0. Much of Rowett’s system depends on the availability and form of Clayton Donaldson who while not a prolific marksman at this level, plays an invaluable role for the side with his running and hold up play. Ex-Wolves Stephen Gleeson and David Davis remain regulars in midfield as does Tomasz Kuszczak in goal, while the ever popular Paul Robinson is still somehow carving out a living despite bearing a passing resemblance to 1990s agent Eric ‘Monster’ Hall these days.
Last line up (vs Wigan, 16.8.16, D 1-1): Kuszczak; Spector, Morrison, Shotton, Grounds; Kieftenbeld, Davis, Gleeson; Maghoma, Cotterill, Donaldson.
Sunday 13 March 2016: Wolves 0-0 Birmingham
What do you know, another glorious 0-0 for me to write about. Actually this one wasn’t too bad as far as the plethora of last season’s selection of goalless drudgery goes, we played reasonably well in the first half only to be pegged back after the break and ending up grateful for some poor Birmingham finishing. Jon Toral in particular produced a miss that belongs in the Sam Vokes vs Man Utd category. It wasn’t a game of any particular great quality on an increasingly rutted Molineux playing surface, but I’d choose to watch this game again over Ipswich at home from last season. Or Blackburn at home. Or MK Dons at home. Or…you get the idea.
Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Hause, Doherty; Coady, Price, Saville; Byrne (Zyro 45), Sigurdarson, Helan (Mason 85). Unused subs: Martinez, Deslandes, Rowe, McDonald, Hunte.
2015/16: D 0-0 (H), W 2-0 (A)
2013/14: D 0-0 (H), L 1-2 (A)
2012/13: W 1-0 (H), W 3-2 (A)
2011/12: D 0-0 (A, FAC), L 0-1 (H, FAC)
2010/11: W 1-0 (H), D 1-1 (A)
2009/10: L 0-1 (H), L 1-2 (A)
2008/9: D 1-1 (H), L 0-2 (A), W 2-0 (A, FAC)
2006/7: L 2-3 (H), D 1-1 (A)
2003/4: D 1-1 (H), D 2-2 (A)
2001/2: W 2-1 (H), D 2-2 (A)
2000/1: L 0-1 (H), W 1-0 (A)
1999/0: W 2-1 (H), L 0-1 (A)
1998/9: W 3-1 (H), W 1-0 (A)
1997/8: L 1-3 (H), L 0-1 (A)
1996/7: L 1-2 (H), W 2-1 (A)
1995/6: W 3-2 (H), L 0-2 (A), D 1-1 (A, FAC), W 2-1 (H, FAC)
1993/4: W 3-0 (H), D 2-2 (A)
Birmingham 1-1 Wolves (Saville)
We’re still settling down at this stage so particularly in away games it’s tough to confidently predict that we’re capable of picking up victories, there remain so many areas of the team which need significant work. We have, however, shown convincingly that we have the will to compete in this league so a hard fought draw it is.