Looking to continue excellent early start to season
Even allowing for the uneven and unrepresentative nature of early season league tables, you’d have got long odds on Huddersfield vs Wolves being a top three clash at the end of August. It would still seem unlikely that both teams will be competing at this end of the table for the remainder of the season but Brighton showed last year that a swift turnaround from a poor campaign is possible. Morale is high in both camps as each look to round off an impressive start as we head into the first international break of the season. Although the kind of thrills and spills to be found in a Steve Bruce “Leddersford Town” novel are unlikely, this is an intriguing encounter which gives Wolves a further chance to put a marker down in demonstrating how far along we are in making a genuine top six push this season.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Ola John are the new arrivals into our squad this week, each signed on a season loan from Manchester United and Benfica respectively. The depth of our squad continues to grow as Walter Zenga seeks to have options all over the park. Lee Evans has been the only ever present in midfield in Zenga’s first four league games but will be missing here due to a minor knee injury. There was a further 65 minute run out for Nouha Dicko in the U23s fixture on Monday but this would still seem to be too early for him to return even to sit on the bench; caution has to be the watchword after a lay off of almost exactly a year.
With new arrivals coming into a squad that’s already winning games and playing well, this leaves the manager with some interesting decisions to make. I’ve said it before and said it again, ‘never change a winning team’ is one of the biggest fallacies in sport so that should be going out of the window; picking the team best equipped to get you a result really is the be all and end all. Dominic Iorfa’s best performance so far this season came at centre half against Reading, Matt Doherty has played better in the last three games than I’ve ever seen him in a Wolves shirt (his form really wasn’t that impressive last season, farcical Player of the Season award or not) and Borthwick-Jackson is far too good to be leaving out of the team; Jose Mourinho has sent him here to get regular football and we don’t have the luxury of benching players who would be likely to find their way into several Premier League teams. Elsewhere, we have the familiar issue of many of our central midfielders being more or less interchangeable in terms of quality which will hopefully be addressed by the end of the transfer window, and we continue to lack depth up front in the absence of Dicko, though Helder Costa did his longer term prospects no harm with a goal and a lively display in an unfamiliar striking role in the midweek League Cup victory over Cambridge.
Matt Doherty – Dominic Iorfa – Danny Batth – Cameron Borthwick-Jackson
Prince Oniangue – Jack Price – Conor Coady
Jed Wallace – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – Joe Mason
Subs: Andy Lonergan, Kortney Hause, Sylvain Deslandes, George Saville, Joao Teixeira, Helder Costa, Ola John.
2015/16 was a fairly grim one for Huddersfield; following Chris Powell’s sacking and David Wagner’s installation in early November, they never rose above 15th place and finished the season with 4-0 and 5-1 defeats to Bristol City and Brentford. Another season of bottom third struggle seemed to be on the cards yet their start has confounded all expectations, the obvious highlight being a 2-1 win – an apparently deserved one – at St James’ Park a fortnight ago. Last time out they mirrored Wolves’ derby success at Birmingham with a victory of their own over Barnsley, Jonathan Hogg scoring in the dying seconds of injury time to force a 2-1 win.
The likes of Christopher Schindler, Jon Gorenc-Stankovic, Elias Kachunga, Michael Hefele and Chris Löwe are far from household names in Germany but Wagner has used his knowledge of the German league system to pick them up at fairly low cost in an attempt to revamp the squad he inherited. Nahki Wells remains a forward coveted by many at this level with a very respectable haul of 17 goals in a struggling team last season (fact of the day: Benik Afobe, Adam Le Fondre, Björn Sigurdarson, Nouha Dicko, Grant Holt, Bright Enobakhare and Michal Zyro managed 18 league goals between them for Wolves last year) while Manchester City loanee Aaron Mooy impressed for Australia in a friendly against England prior to Euro 2016 and has made an excellent start for the Terriers. One can only wonder how he failed to make the grade at St Mirren earlier in his career.
Interest will inevitably be focused on Rajiv van La Parra who has started all four of Town’s games so far and makes his first reunion with Wolves. It’s hard to think of many more frustrating players than the Dutchman; the ability to succeed at this level was clearly there and from time to time we got glimpses of what he could offer us. Unfortunately this was never shown consistently enough and his attitude was continually questionable, with it being fair to say that he had around the same stomach for a fight as an Italian soldier circa 1944. As with so many fans, Wolves supporters have a pathological obsession with former players scoring against us; in reality, this doesn’t actually happen particularly often, with there being at least as many Jay Bothroyd/Michael McIndoe/Leon Clarke no shows as there are Steve Claridge matchwinning displays. We need to hope that the law of averages favours us and Raj’s trademark one good game in 10 doesn’t happen at the weekend.
Last line up (vs Barnsley, 20.8.16, W 2-1): Ward; Smith, Hudson, Schindler, Löwe; van La Parra, Whitehead, Mooy, Scannell; Kachunga, Wells.
Saturday 20 February 2016: Huddersfield 1-0 Wolves
Hurrah! Not a 0-0 for me to recount in this section! But this wasn’t really any more fun. Another drab winter game where chances at both ends were a premium, this left us on a run of six games without a win and with little sign of anything improving any time soon. A disallowed Joe Mason goal was about as much threat as we could muster while some ultra-ropey defending allowed Nahki Wells to pinch the winner with 12 minutes to go. That midfield is one of the worst I’ve seen us send out since Mark McGhee decided that Robin van der Laan, Jens Dowe and Steve Corica would be a winning combination in the autumn of 1996. Note Kenny Jackett’s revolutionary use of one sub again when we needed a goal.
Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Ebanks-Landell, Doherty; Coady, Saville, Rowe (Byrne 78); Mason, Sigurdarson, van La Parra. Unused subs: Martinez, Deslandes, Hause, McDonald, Price, Le Fondre.
1995/6: D 0-0 (H), L 1-2 (A)
1996/7: D 0-0 (H), W 2-0 (A)
1997/8: D 1-1 (H), L 0-1 (A)
1998/9: D 2-2 (H), L 1-2 (A)
1999/0: L 0-1 (H), L 0-2 (A)
2000/1: L 0-1 (H), L 0-3 (A)
2012/13: L 1-3 (H), L 1-2 (A)
2014/15: L 1-3 (H), W 4-1 (A)
2015/16: W 3-0 (H), L 0-1 (A)
Huddersfield 1-1 Wolves (Bodvarsson)
It should be a reasonably open and entertaining game, but given the form of both sides and the points already on the board I suspect both teams would take a draw at this stage to take into the break.