First of six home games in the run-in
We return to action tomorrow after the ever interminable international break and enter an extremely busy month with eight games to be played in 29 days. We should, of course, never have got ourselves in a position where relegation was a genuine fear but we can at least remove that more or less completely with a strong showing at home this week against Cardiff and Nottingham Forest. It’s not exactly what any of us were aiming for earlier in the season, but the priority for now is merely to secure our divisional status as playing in League One again doesn’t bear thinking about. Talented players don’t want to be playing at Gigg Lane and Kingsmeadow.
After the confusion of the Rotherham set up and performance which followed our catastrophic run of defeats in February, we seem to have eventually hit on a formula which can actually produce rewards going forward; the two wins over Brentford and Fulham were unexpected given our form yet were underpinned by a consistent attacking threat which we haven’t shown for quite some time. Ben Marshall finally getting up to speed has given us a genuine outlet out wide, he looks a good footballer and is justifying why Paul Lambert brought him in, even if remains unacceptable that he turned up looking like he’d spent a couple of months working as chief taster for Greggs. The return from injury of Ivan Cavaleiro is also key as he offers a different dimension to anyone else currently available – casting him in the #10 role appears to be a good move as he is more than comfortable at operating from central areas and this also to a large extent removes defensive responsibility from him. I don’t wish to have a go at Dave Edwards (this time) but he just isn’t suited to playing in that role any more – if he ever genuinely was at this level – and it is no accident that our goal output decreased when he was incomprehensibly deployed there through February. A switch that we made after he produced his best ever Wolves form in a deeper role in the preceding 2-3 months. I’ve said it before and I’ll be saying it for as long as I’m around, managers do strange things at times.
Andi Weimann has responded to being played in what he asserts to be his best position as a central striker with two goals in two starts. We all like the endeavour of Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Nouha Dicko, but it just isn’t sustainable to play this system and have as good as zero genuine goal threat from the lone striker. The goals that Weimann has scored for us so far indicate that he has definite finishing ability and we don’t lose anything in terms of movement when he plays there. Added to the ever impressive Helder Costa, this is a front four which can cause damage against any opposition in this league.
Elsewhere, there are serious and long standing issues with quality, but we are where we are and there’s little that can be done about that until the summer at earliest. While it’s been proven beyond reasonable doubt that the likes of Carl Ikeme, Conor Coady, Matt Doherty and Danny Batth simply aren’t acceptable options for a team with any kind of designs on the top six, there is little alternative but to play them as it stands. The paucity of the quality beyond them is shown up with an injury doubt over Ikeme after picking up a small muscle strain on international duty; no-one can be seriously comfortable with picking Harry Burgoyne (at this stage of his development) or Andy Lonergan (at any stage). We are rapidly approaching crunch time for Mike Williamson – he simply has to feature in a high number of games this month to have a realistic chance of earning a new deal. Whether Lambert is going to remove Batth from the starting XI after he featured in the two away wins is another matter.
Conor Coady – Mike Williamson – Kortney Hause – Matt Doherty
Dave Edwards – Lee Evans
Ben Marshall – Ivan Cavaleiro – Helder Costa
Subs: Harry Burgoyne, Danny Batth, Romain Saiss, Morgan Gibbs-White, Bright Enobakhare, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Nouha Dicko
Let’s be clear about this – I don’t like Neil Warnock. Never have done, never will do. Whether it’s imploring his Notts County players to “fucking break Bully’s legs”, sending numerous teams to Molineux in the most mind-numbingly negative setup imaginable (his Sheffield United outfit were once timewasting after two minutes in a game here) or just generally being an objectionable wazzock, he’s just not my cup of tea. However, it can’t be denied that for two straight years, he’s done a superb rescue job at two separate clubs. After saving Rotherham from what seemed an inevitable relegation last season – leading them to a scarcely credible 11 game unbeaten run along the way – he saw the writing on the wall in South Yorkshire and resigned. Cardiff’s summer appointment of Paul Trollope failed to pay dividends and with the Bluebirds second bottom of the table, Warnock took the reigns in early October, presumably saying that this would be his last job and that he would do two more years in football, like he’s been parroting since about 2001. Early results were mixed but a run of seven wins in nine games through January and February pulled them well clear of the relegation fight and sitting on 51 points at present, would consider themselves to be all but mathematically safe already. You have to respect that, even if I don’t like him. And I really don’t.
It’s all the more impressive an achievement given the clear downsizing of ambition over the last couple of years; Vincent Tan has toned down the lunatic behaviour in favour of essentially leaving the club to run itself in greatly reduced circumstances. Long serving stalwarts Peter Whittingham and Aron Gunnarsson are still at the club and play key roles, but gone are the days of big money signings on huge (by Championship standards) wages. Warnock has done a familiar job of picking up waifs and strays and gelling them into a coherent team; Sol Bamba looked a walking disaster at Leeds and Junior Hoilett had done nothing for years since leaving Blackburn, but since arriving in South Wales they have performed superbly in the club’s rise into mid-table security. After failing to even start a game until mid-December, Danish forward Kenneth Zohore has notched 10 goals in 16 games since Boxing Day while they have also been bolstered by the loan arrival of Allan McGregor – although he will have unhappy memories of Molineux having gifted James Henry a goal against Hull in August 2015. Craig Noone has the unhappy knack of turning in a performance against us and absolutely tore Matt Doherty to shreds in the meeting here last January, so will need to be watched carefully. Greg Halford should be on the bench, ready to provide his unique blend of lumbering around and displaying less commitment than Cheryl Cole to a marriage if required.
Last line-up (vs Ipswich, 18.3.17, W 3-1): McGregor; Richards, Morrison, Bamba, Bennett; Noone, Gunnarsson, Whittingham, Harris; Hoilett; Zohore
Top scorers: Kenneth Zohore (10), Anthony Pilkington (7), Peter Whittingham/Joe Ralls (6)
Top assists: Peter Whittingham (6), Sean Morrison (4), Kadeem Harris/Junior Hoilett (3)
13 December 2016: Cardiff 2-1 Wolves
Oh dear. The breathless 4-4 home draw with Fulham was followed up with this limp display where despite being gifted a goal start – the hapless Ben Amos flapping at a Doherty 30 yarder which would have hit him in the face if he’d just stood there – we allowed Cardiff back into the game, offering little by way of inclination to push on for a second goal and eventually succumbed to defeat, as Matt Connolly (unmarked three yards out off a set piece) and Anthony Pilkington (strolling through one of our trademark yawning gaps right through the heart of our defence) notched second half goals. The win pulled Warnock’s men out of the bottom three and since then it has been steady upward progress for them.
Team: Burgoyne; Iorfa, Batth, Stearman, Doherty; Edwards, Saiss, Saville; Costa (Teixeira 45), Dicko (Bodvarsson 76), Cavaleiro (Enobakhare 66). Unused subs: Flatt, Hause, Coady, Price.
2016/17: L 1-2 (A)
2015/16: L 1-3 (H), L 0-2 (A)
2014/15: W 1-0 (H), W 1-0 (A)
2012/13: L 1-2 (H), L 1-3 (A)
2008/9: D 2-2 (H), W 2-1 (A)
2007/8: W 3-0 (H), W 3-2 (A), L 0-2 (A, FAC)
2006/7: L 1-2 (H), L 0-4 (A)
2005/6: W 2-0 (H), D 2-2 (A)
2004/5: L 2-3 (H), D 1-1 (A)
Wolves 2-1 Cardiff (Weimann, Costa)
It’s time to really start to step it up at home; results and performances at Molineux just haven’t been anything like acceptable for far too long. Facing a Warnock team is never especially pleasant but we should be able to take confidence from the wins in West London and pick up the points here.