Visit to West Yorkshire sees first defeat of Zenga era
First up, the usual disclaimer for this section of the blog. At present, away games aren’t an option for me for a variety of reasons that aren’t worth going into here. So what you get here is my initial reaction to a game, based on whatever reports, commentary and feedback I’ve been able to get. At no stage am I trying to suggest I know better than anyone who went to the match, clearly I can’t guarantee 100% accuracy either. For all the home league games and any televised away ones, you get a proper verdict from me as I’ll be there for all of them. For other away games, you get these. That’s the deal. Right, now that’s out of the way, here we go:
Dave Edwards’ time is well and truly up
It’s customary to comment on Dave Edwards by stressing his supposedly loyal service to the club over approaching nine years and what a great chap he seems. The second point isn’t in doubt. The reason he’s been “loyal” to the club is because we keep handing him contracts and no-one else wants to sign him. That’s less loyalty, more staying at a club by default and the player not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth. Mine isn’t an impartial opinion by any means as I’ve wanted us to move him on for many, many years (since at least 2010) but it’s apparent now that we have multiple superior options to him and yet he is still somehow nabbing a starting berth. This despite him boasting a record of 1 goal in his last 27 Wolves appearances stretching back to last November, when goal threat is allegedly one of his key attributes. He’s never had the ability to influence the game in possession, his customary athleticism is rapidly becoming diminished as he moves into his 30s and he offers little but honest yet ineffective endeavour defensively, so it’s puzzling that yet another Wolves manager has perplexingly become wedded to the idea of inking him into the XI whenever possible. Even more so when Walter Zenga saw fit to haul Edwards off at half time at home to Ipswich after 45 incomprehensibly anonymous minutes, and then saw him plod through two thirds of the victory at Birmingham while having virtually no influence on the game. It’s very old ground to debate his worthiness but it’s a debate that definitively needs putting to bed. He should have no place whatsoever in our thinking. We cannot carry a footballer who offers so little.
Zenga’s selections have yet to settle down
The starting line ups sent out to date by the Italian have been characterised by frequent changes of personnel within his favoured 4-3-3 shape, we have yet to send out an unchanged team and the new signings made have generally been eased in gently with only Jon Dadi Bodvarsson being an automatic choice thus far. Indeed, today he was the only summer signing to start the game. While it’s fine to have a philosophy of frequently rotating players, at some point we do need some consistency of selection to enable key partnerships to develop within the team. We have also signed these players for good reason, to improve on what was an incredibly mundane squad that was set for nothing more than a trundle towards mid-table at best before we were taken over. The international break must be used to get the new arrivals fully integrated and we must be using them properly when we return to action. Having such a turnover of players is worthless if they aren’t being used regularly, and the incumbents don’t have anything like the bank of goodwill you would deem appropriate for them to retain favour.
Poor starts away from home will eventually prove costly
Each of Zenga’s three away games have followed a similar pattern thus far; a below par first half leading to us trailing at half time, before a second half revival sees us take the ascendancy and create the lion’s share of chances. This worked out well enough for us at Rotherham and Birmingham but today we couldn’t force an equaliser despite periods of sustained pressure and wound up losing the game. There are no teams in this league, or indeed at any level of English football, who are good enough to concede entire first halves and only make a concerted effort to win after the break. It’s all very well to finish games strongly and it’s encouraging that Zenga seems to have the knack of inspiring the players at half time, but we can’t keep chasing games. With increasing regularity that state of affairs will lead to us coming unstuck. This is of course in part related to picking the right team in the first place, as detailed in the first two points. It’s a learning experience for Zenga, he has to quickly learn that if you start slowly in the Championship then invariably you’ll be fighting from a goal or more down as a consequence.
Helder Costa is starting to make his mark
The very first arrival of the Fosun era has taken his time to make an impact on the team – he has, of course, yet to start a league game – but a League Cup goal in midweek and a bright substitute appearance today augur well for the near future. While Jed Wallace and Joe Mason bring qualities of their own to the wide positions in the front three, the Portuguese youngster’s raw pace and direct running offers a different option which may prove invaluable should we continue to target a style of quick transition from defence to attack. Competition for wide spots will be fierce as the season progresses, even more so when Jordan Graham returns from injury, but he is beginning to show enough to suggest that he will have a major role to play.
Our effort and spirit cannot be questioned
Although today has ended in defeat, we subjected the home team to sustained pressure throughout much of the second half and kept pushing for a way back into the match. While this should be a given with all teams, there have been many instances over the last year or so of Wolves meekly subsiding to defeats after falling behind. Zenga is also always keen to influence the game through proactive substitutions and while one can argue that he should be making the right choices in the first places, he is certainly not one to let a game drift or leave a change too long in the making. Having to fight back against adversity is an inevitability in a long season; we are at least showing signs that in such battles it won’t be possible to query the desire of the players and management along the way.
A decent start, plenty of work ahead
Broadly speaking a haul of eight points from five games with two ostensibly winnable home fixtures to come directly after the international break represents a reasonable start, somewhere between par and slightly above. However, it’s clear that tougher tests will lie ahead, for all that Huddersfield have started the season in incredible fashion it would seem unlikely that they’ll be troubling the very top end of the division come the end of the campaign, and none of the other four teams faced are big hitters. The league is made up of at least 10, possibly more, teams who would realistically suggest that they have serious designs on promotion this year and we are yet to face any of them. There are challenges ahead in how we react to sustained heavy pressure on our defence – not an issue in any of the games played so far – how much we are able to control possession, whether we can break down a stubborn team (as we failed to do against Ipswich), as well as the ability of the new players to adapt to the league and the management to get them into the XI regularly. While enough early concerns have been assuaged already, there remain numerous questions for this squad and Zenga himself to answer.