Premiership Promotion Preview No.1: Wolverhampton Wanderers
As is the usual preseason prediction, the three promoted sides are always the favourites to go straight back down. Last season gave us something of a novelty in recent years, with two of the three sides that came up in 2007-2008 staying with us for another year, as close as Hull tried to throw it all away. With Wolves returning to the Premiership after an absence of 5 seasons, they’ll be keen to hang in there for more than one season.
Let’s not forget that Wolves won the title last season and regardless of what anyone says, The Championship is the hardest league in the world to get out of in the right way. Leeds United, Charlton Athletic, Norwich City, Leicester City, Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley have all gone the wrong way out of the league and the division is littered with sides that have big grounds, big squads and plenty of Premiership experience. Sure they faltered at the end, but not many clubs get up without a blip or two along the way. Newcastle United and Middlesbrough beware!
The 1990′s saw Wolves consistently challenge at the top of the Championship table, only to miss out in Play offs and falter in the final straight. Sir Jack Hayward, after taking over in 1990, spent plenty of money upgrading Molineux and attracting high calibre managers to the hot seat. For some reason, Wolves have a reputation as sacking club, but since 1990, they’ve only had 7 managers. Hardly the situation you would see at some other clubs in the same period who you would consider lesser sides in the scheme of things. Barnsley have had 12 managers, Sheffield Wednesday 11 and neither side has come close to returning to the Premiership this century.
The last experience of the Premiership for Wolves in the 2003-2004 season was one of gallant failure. The side was made up of aging pro’s who had plenty of Premiership experience but not necessarily the legs or skill required to keep them up finishing 6 points adrift of Everton. In the five years since they last played top flight football, the league has changed somewhat. 6 of the teams that finished above them have now been relegated, 3 of them suffering further with Leeds United and from next season Southampton and Charlton Athletic having another relegation out of the Championship.
The key factor this time around is the away form for Mick McCarthy’s men. Last time round, they didn’t manage to win a game away from home, conceding 4 or more goals 7 times and going 7 games without a win in two separate runs. The strike force of Miller, Blake and Iversen didn’t deliver and whilst Ganea, Cort and Camara tried their best once they came in, it was too little, too late.
This close season has seen Wolves smash their transfer record with the £6.5 million capture of Kevin Doyle. If they can get Doyle and the promising Sylvan Ebanks-Blake working in tandem in friendlies, that could be the relationship that keeps them up. With the promising Sam Vokes, Andrew Keogh and Stephen Ward in reserve, they need another striker who can get them goals if injury effects the first choice line up.
What he would give for discovering another Steve Bull on a bargain price from West Bromwich Albion again. Don’t forget though that Ebanks-Blake has hit 37 goals in 63 games since he joined them from Plymouth Argyle. He won the Golden Boot for being the league’s top scorer two seasons in a row, so he’s no mug and graduated through the ranks of Manchester United.
McCarthy has also added Andrew Surman, Nenad Milijas, Bobo Balde and Ronald Zubar as well as former Reading players Marcus Hahnemann and Greg Halford. I’m not surprised they went for an experienced goalkeeper, as solid as Wayne Hennessey and Matt Murray are, Hahnemann knows exactly what to expect in the Premier League. A strong character between the sticks is crucial and as highly rated as both current goalkeepers were, confidence can be shattered by a 4 or 5 goal mauling at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.
There will be no doubt that Molineux will see Wolves and their fans celebrate wins, of that there is no doubt. Last time round, the home form wasn’t too bad all in all, keep things tight at home and go after teams like Stoke, Hull, Burnley, Birmingham and renowned travel sickness sufferers Spurs, Portsmouth and Fulham.
Don’t forget that Manchester United left with their tails between there legs after losing 1-0 last time they visited Wolves in the Premiership. Stoke City’s home support last season showed just how important crowd backing can be. It is crucial when you’re up against it and can make all the difference. If the crowd sense you’re giving 100%, they’ll match you all the way.
The other factor for Wolves now is the backing of owner Steve Morgan. Wolves have money to spend, but need quality over quantity. McCarthy had his hands tied with a miniscule budget whilst at Sunderland, but brought in too many players who simply couldn’t cope with the rigours of Premiership football. He’ll know that another striker is the crucial signing, but I don’t see Wolves struggling this time.
It’ll be tight but I think they’ll stay up. They’ve got money, passionate noisy fans, the nucleus of a hungry, keen side and the fans should be looking forward to a steady season. A couple more signings are needed but they’ll be fine and with plans to expand the stadium, Wolves could be about to enter a new era in the best shape they’ve been in since 1960.