Return to action after the international break
The two week hiatus caused by the international break is almost over, with surveys yet to find a single person in Western Europe who enjoys their season being broken up just as it’s getting going. Wolves head back into action with a home double header against two teams newly promoted from League One, with Championship debutants Burton Albion first up. After a narrow and perhaps slightly unfortunate defeat at league leaders Huddersfield Town last time up, this would seem to represent a good chance of getting back to winning ways and pushing back up towards the two points per game target that any team with serious aspirations for promotion would target having looked at our first seven games.
An extremely busy summer’s transfer business has been concluded and Walter Zenga now has a wealth of options to choose from right across the park, a world of difference from his first game in charge a little over a month ago at Rotherham where many of the starting positions were taken up by default. Zenga has made little secret of his desire to have ready made replacements in every position where possible to aid frequent rotation without impacting on the quality of the starting XI. As noted in my reaction to the Huddersfield defeat, rotation as a concept is fine but there would have to be a suspicion towards changes for changes sake; successful teams at this level are fundamentally built on key partnerships throughout the first choice line up, exemplified no more than our 2008/9 vintage under Mick McCarthy. While there were options available for Mick to freshen things up or fill in gaps due to injury and suspension, when everyone was available there were few question marks as to the make up of the best team and each of those players knew how to link with those around them. This is an aspect of Zenga’s management that we shall need to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.
Thus far, the new signings of the Fosun era have largely been eased into the team gently, partly as some were lacking fitness after disrupted or minimal pre-season campaigns. However, this should no longer be in question after nearly a fortnight on the training pitch and furthermore it would defy logic to continue to hold these players back; they were, after all, signed to improve what was a fairly ordinary (at best) squad and help us push on towards our ultimate goal of promotion. They aren’t going to have much hope of doing so with sporadic appearances from the bench while those we all suspect of being short of the quality required continue to hold down starting spots. As such, I’d be getting as many of the new arrivals into the team as possible although my personal preference would be to persist with the partnership of Dominic Iorfa and Danny Batth at centre half. Richard Stearman’s return to the club was not one I especially welcomed as while he can produce excellent displays at this level from time to time, we know all too well of his many flaws; a tendency to lapse into runs of poor form, weaknesses with marking and dealing with the high ball, over-confidence on the ball and an inability to act as the leader of the back four. It was puzzling how a man derided for many, many years by the supporters became a fans’ favourite for producing the same kind of displays that he’d always produced in the latter half of 2014/15, and as ever, he was never more popular than on the day that the club chose to sell him. He’ll doubtless have some kind of role to play as the season progresses and he does indubitably represent a significant upgrade on the now loaned-out Ethan Ebanks-Landell, but I would be very disappointed if his return were to limit Iorfa’s development.
Lee Evans, Silvio, Nouha Dicko and Jordan Graham remain unavailable.
Matt Doherty – Dominic Iorfa – Danny Batth – Cameron Borthwick-Jackson
Prince Oniangue – Joao Teixeira
Ivan Cavaleiro – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – Helder Costa
Subs: Andy Lonergan, Kortney Hause, Richard Stearman, Jack Price, Jed Wallace, Joe Mason, Paul Gladon.
It’s customary for newly promoted teams to be tipped for relegation before they’ve finished celebrating the previous season’s success. This applied especially so to Burton; coming off the back of successive promotions and playing in the Conference as recently as 2008/9, they looked like to go the way of Yeovil when they reached this level, a club that had become victims of their own success and ended up playing in a division where in all aspects they were palpably out of their depth. Examining their League One record didn’t throw up many promising signs either; a mere 57 goals scored (the same amount as relegated Colchester) and a sense of falling over the line in the end as they won just two of their final nine games and failed to score in five of those fixtures.
Whether Nigel Clough has realised the futility of trying to play in the same manner at this level is unclear, but they appear to have abandoned the previous approach and entered games with a willingness to throw caution to the wind. Their five games so far have produced 19 goals and it seems that they have entered their first ever season in the second tier with a mindset of trying to outscore teams. Not that all has been lost defensively; their win over Derby in the last outing before the break (sure to pass into local folklore) saw them restrict their more illustrious neighbours to just three shots on target and they dealt comfortably with the visitors having vastly more of the ball following Jackson Irvine’s early and eventual winning goal. At this stage, having also defeated heavily fancied Sheffield Wednesday at the Pirelli Stadium, The Brewers are making an admirable start to life in the Championship and certainly don’t look to be any kind of whipping boys (on that note, hello Blackburn Rovers).
Clough has thus far set out his teams in a 3-5-2 shape with the returning John Brayford slotting in for the last game on the right of the back three. Lloyd Dyer and Lucas Akins play as the wingbacks while Irvine and Tom Naylor have each notched three goals from the central midfield positions so far. One time Wolves loanee Stephen Bywater is the back up goalkeeper and ex-Blackpool and Derby man Shaun Barker has made a heartening return to full time football after four and a half years out of action with a terrible knee injury.
Last line up (vs Derby, 26.8.16, W 1-0): McLaughlin; Brayford, McFadzean, Turner; Akins, Naylor, Palmer, Irvine, Dyer; O’Grady, Miller.
Top scorers: Tom Naylor (3), Jackson Irvine (3), Lloyd Dyer (2)
Sadly there is nothing to add for this section this time out as Burton are one of only four current Football League clubs that Wolves have never faced in competitive action (the other three being Fleetwood Town, AFC Wimbledon and Yeovil Town). We did beat them 1-0 in a pre-season friendly last July with Nouha Dicko grabbing the only goal, but we aren’t so desperate for content to be reviewing games like that. Yet, anyway.
Wolves 3-1 Burton (Oniangue 2, Helder Costa)
While this shouldn’t be a walkover by any means, a big home crowd and the impetus provided by the new players (if selected!) will hopefully see Wolves come out on top.