Pressure on Zenga after four winless games
It’s been a while since I wrote anything for the site (a variety of reasons, not worth going into now, everything’s broadly speaking fine, etc) and during that hiatus we haven’t won any of the games I’ve neglected. So it seems as good a time as any to start again. Make no mistake, Walter Zenga is under pressure now; although no-one wants us to enter a cycle of hiring and firing managers after a third of a season, picking up eight points from nine games and sitting in 16th place is not the kind of return that Fosun will deem acceptable for any length of time. We now enter a run of fixtures that should, theoretically, provide the opportunity to reverse that recent trend and make a concerted push for the top six between now and Christmas. Should we fail to be making sufficient progress in that respect, it would become increasingly likely that the Italian would be spending Christmas in Dubai rather than Dunstall.
At this stage it would be fair to say that he largely retains the support of the fans, his engaging personality and immediate affinity to the club and supporters is a positive trait. We have, at times, looked like a very good team at this level, no less so than in last Saturday’s game at Villa Park; sadly, this only resulted in a solitary point being taken away and at some point all of the promising signs have to manifest themselves into a concerted run of promotion challenging form. Running at well under a point-and-a-half a game won’t do. Not putting away four of the current bottom seven in the division (three draws and a defeat) won’t do. Being closer to the relegation zone than the final playoff berth won’t do. It’s a harsh reality but the new owners are here for success, they have little to no interest in having us bounce around the middle regions of the Championship for very long and while we might not be looking for an appointment in the Steve Bruce mold (significantly less lumpy than six months ago, it must be said – maybe toning himself up for an appearance at the Booker Awards), there would be an abundance of coaches accustomed to working in the continental model who would be more than willing to work with this current squad. He has to start getting results and it has to start now. There cannot be any more excuses. The squad has been in place for a number of weeks, we are not hampered by injuries to any significant degree, all of the first team players should be physically fit and ready to play Championship football, we should be nailing down a footballing identity and given the quality and options available, anything other than a serious playoff challenge would be fundamentally unacceptable. So none of this is a call for him to go at this stage, but a reiteration that Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2016 and beyond cannot and will not tolerate mediocrity. The landscape has changed and results have to start reflecting that.
Thus far, Zenga has shown no inclination to divert from his starting shape of 4-1-2-3. This would seem to preclude the prospect of playing Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Nouha Dicko in a genuine strike partnership, as appetising as many would find that. At this stage, it would seem futile to set up any mooted team in any formation other than that we’ve deployed in every single game this season, although it could well be that particularly at home, this is one last chance for us to set up this way. We are slightly lacking in goals at Molineux – three of our seven scored so far came in one game against Brentford – and it’s debatable how long we can persist with tactics that seem ostensibly balanced but are yet to provide much in the way of tangible, reliable results or prolonged attacking threat.
One experiment that should be at an end is the deployment of Prince Oniangue on the left of the front three; he has tried manfully in that role in each of the last two games but simply isn’t equipped to play out there, and it seems entirely perverse that we would persist with playing him wildly out of position when we have our club record signing, a specialist in that position, sat on the bench. When played centrally, Oniangue has frequently struggled to impose himself on games, perhaps hamstrung by instructions to the central midfielders that seem confused at times – while the holding player (Romain Saiss since he attained fitness) has a clear brief, the two midfielders ahead of him don’t seem to be told to retain possession, push forward or provide additional defensive protection, they appear to be left to their own devices with perhaps understandably confused results. We had some joy in the home game against Norwich when Conor Coady was brought on for Oniangue and sat alongside Saiss, allowing Dave Edwards to push forwards and provide a genuine goal threat. While Edwards is no long term option whatsoever, if we give him the clear instruction to play as an attacking midfielder, he is perhaps at this stage more equipped to make an impact on games than the Congolese newcomer. He has certainly improved his pressing in high areas, no longer aimlessly charging around between centre halves and defensive midfielder, but actually winning the ball and putting us immediately on the attack in the final third.
The full back positions are the other area where a rethink is perhaps required. While Matt Doherty has improved immeasurably since around February of this year, playing him at left back limits us greatly in an attacking sense as there is rarely any prospect of him overlapping in any meaningful way. On the other side, Dominic Iorfa has endured two difficult games in a row and could benefit from a break from the starting line up. It seems odd that after largely accomplished outings, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has been missing from the matchday squad since the international break and at some point it would be good to see what Silvio – a full Portuguese international as recently as 2013, lest we forget – can do at this level with his undoubted quality.
Silvio – Danny Batth – Kortney Hause – Cameron Borthwick-Jackson
Conor Coady – Dave Edwards
Helder Costa – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – Ivan Cavaleiro
Subs: Andy Lonergan, Matt Doherty, Dominic Iorfa, Jack Price, Joao Teixeira, Prince Oniangue, Nouha Dicko.
6, 6, 33, 12 and 38: thus reads the number of competitive games that each permanent manager has lasted at Elland Road since Massimo Cellino took over in 2014. As such, at 16 games, Garry Monk is potentially close to outstaying his welcome. The former Swansea man should fare a little better than his predecessors with a fairly healthy reputation within the game and after a poor start of four points from his opening six league games, has steadied the ship and has Leeds sat a point and two places above Wolves at this stage.
In what has become familiar territory for (relatively) long suffering Leeds fans in recent years, Academy products Sam Byram and Lewis Cook have this year joined the long list of talented youngsters to leave the club. It will have been less of a concern for those fans that relics of Cellino’s doomed policy to snap up Serie B also-rans in Mirco Antenucci, Giuseppe Bellusci and Tommaso Bianchi were also amongst the list of summer departures. In their stead (amongst others) have come long-standing purveyor of diabolical kicking Rob Green, former Swansea and Valencia playmaker Pablo Hernandez, Bristol City defender Luke Ayling and the impressive Swedish centre half Pontus Jansson.
Monk has his team set up in a predominantly 4-2-3-1 shape with former West Brom and long-term Kenny Jackett target Chris Wood leading the attack. The New Zealander has started the season in solid form with six goals from his 12 league starts so far. Another ex-Swansea man, Kyle Bartley partners Jansson at the heart of the defence while the exciting Kemar Roofe, so impressive for Oxford in League Two last season, was handed his first start since August in the midweek draw at home to Wigan. The highly rated Alex Mowatt has struggled to make an impact so far this season but has the capability to score and create from midfield, as showcased with his long range effort at Molineux in the 4-3 thriller in April 2015.
Last line up (vs Wigan, 18.10.16, D 1-1): Green; Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Taylor; Phillips, O’Kane; Roofe, Hernandez, Sacko; Wood
Top scorers: Chris Wood (6), Kyle Bartley (2), Pablo Hernandez (2)
Top assists: Hadi Sacko (3), Alex Mowatt (2)
Tuesday 19 April 2016: Leeds 2-1 Wolves
This was when most Wolves fans were just willing a tortuous season to end; with nothing to play for and yet no prospect of invention or experimentation from Kenny Jackett, Leeds picked up their first double over Wanderers since 1973/74. Having witnessed Danny Dichio, Iain Dowie and James Scowcroft unleash inexplicable scorching efforts against us in years past, it comes as no surprise these days when another authentically terrible player hammers home the goal of their career and this came to pass when comedy’s Sol Bamba thundered home a 25 yard belter on the hour mark. Toumani Diagouraga doubled the lead inside five minutes and though George Saville pulled a goal back with 13 minutes to go, it was a deserved victory for Steve Evans’ team. A familiar nod here for all regular readers of this section as we once again saw possibly the least threatening front three in Western Europe sent out by Ken. Amazing really that goals were at a premium for a few months.
Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Hause, Doherty; Edwards, Price, Saville; Henry, Sigurdarson (Mason 73), Helan (Le Fondre 55). Unused subs: Martinez, Deslandes, Coady, Hunte, Enobakhare.
2015/16: L 2-3 (H), L 1-2 (A)
2014/15: W 4-3 (H), W 2-1 (A)
2012/13: D 2-2 (H), L 0-1 (A)
2006/7: W 1-0 (H), W 1-0 (A)
2005/6: W 1-0 (H), L 0-2 (A)
2004/5: D 0-0 (H), D 1-1 (A)
2003/4: W 3-1 (H), L 1-4 (A)
1997/8: W 1-0 (A, FAC)
Wolves 2-1 Leeds (Costa, Cavaleiro)
We need a win and on this occasion I’ll back us to get it. It might not be especially pretty, it almost certainly won’t be particularly comfortable, but we have to make our quality pay in home games such as this and we can use this as the catalyst to start moving up the table.