With two games, two wins, six points and just about as many monkeys already off our backs, you’d forgive the Wolverhampton Wanderers faithful for getting a little carried away.?? Whilst the media have opted to play the illusionist and conjure up all sorts of headlines about Wolves being joint top of the Premier League, I prefer for once to back Mick McCarthy and keep my feet firmly planted.
Match of the Day 2 pointed out that it was the first time in 49 years that Wolverhampton Wanderers had sat atop the English game, whilst The Sun’s ‘Super Goals’ pullout pointed our meteoric rise from the Premier League’s doldrums to its summit with the headline ‘Bottoms up.’ Of course it’s all much ado about nothing. Anybody whose anybody would need psychological testing if they took the Barclays Premier League table seriously after only two games. Although it was nice to hear the South Bank chorusing in jest ”We are top o’ the league, say we are top o’ the league” after our second goal went in on Sunday.
For those who might be thinking that you’ve got a right Victor Meldrew here and that I’m doing my best to find any chink of darkness in an otherwise brightly lit corridor, I’m not. I’m a genuine miser. It’s part and parcel of being a Wolves season ticket holder but even I realise that we have to enjoy it while it lasts. And there is certainly much to be encouraged about from our opening 180 minutes of Premier League football this year, such as:
- For starters we have back to back wins. We didn’t achieve this feat until the final three games of last season in May.
- An away win to kick start the campaign. We’ve overcome a demon which Wolves have had to battle regularly over the previous two campaigns, winning just seven away from 38 in the past two seasons.
- Six points on the board. Those six glorious points are omething which took Wolves until mid October to reach last season. One year on, we are two months ahead of ourselves.
- Taking six points from teams in and around us. The huge weight around Wolves’s neck last season was our inability to beat teams around us. We had groundbreaking wins against Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool, but were compounded by unconvincing home losses to Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton.
- Four goals for and only one against. As one of the league’s lowest scoring teams over the previous two seasons and commonly winning only 1-0 when we did, it’s refreshing to see an average of two goals per game from open play from both the strikers and midfielders.
- Looking comfortable in the 4-4-2. It’s no secret that the transformation to 4-5-1 has saved Wolves’ skin over the past two seasons. Whilst we looked far too open, over run in midfield and lacking any fluency playing a standard 4-4-2, the switch to five in midfield made the gold and black harder to beat — hence the amount of 1-0 wins that saw us survive with a few games, and then a few minutes to spare just three months ago.?We always knew in our minds that to progress as a Premier League side and shake the ‘relegation fodder’ tag we would eventually have to find a way of playing a more conventional 4-4-2. Yet there was so many obvious problems to address. In the past the defense has left a lot to be desired, so midfielders were being picked on their defensive ability giving us very little going forward. It was also said that we needed two other central midfielders to compensate for Karl Henry’s lack of presence and ability in the engine room. Others questioned whether predominantly using two out-and-out wingers as a supply line for two strikers was the reason we looked so susceptible against similar attack minded opposition. At the same time those problems were being addressed, so are critics being answered. We have set out 4-4-2 in our opening fixtures; armed with two wingers, two out and out strikers, Karl Henry and Jamie O’Hara together in the centre of midfield and three out of the four of last seasons defenders. The mind boggles as to what has been changed, said or done but we must be doing something right. McCarthy appears to have addressed the balance between defense and attack, and everyone now has their own individual agendas rather than having to second guess themselves in accordance to what their teammates may or may not be doing right.
All the waffle and analysis aside, the Fulham game on Sunday was a refreshing showpiece for the Molineux faithful. The same unquestionable passion, desire and determination was evident, but this time coupled with a style and panache like many will have never experienced. Wolves were uncharacteristically ruthless. Too many times in the past they have mastered their own downfall by taking a lead in games, then sitting back and inviting pressure until they inevitably crack. The manager himself has been guilty of orchestrating this many a time. Replacing strikers with midfielders and midfielder with defenders far too early in games where we lead and went on to drop valuable points. This was a far too common trait in which Mick McCarthy was earning a predictable reputation for. We feared it, but did not see it against Fulham.
A 2-0 lead at half time for Wolves is usually quite unnecessarily ominous. However much to the delight of the three stands of supporters at Molineux on Sunday, we continued to press, play football and create more and more chances to increase rather than sit on a lead.
Aside from this we are doing all we can to shake the ‘Dirty Wolves’ aura, which looms around the club. Ironically it began against Fulham this time last year when Bobby Zamora suffered an unfortunate leg break and Wolves were overly physical in a match that saw us throw away a lead to lose 2-1. One week later Karl Henry was red carded for an aggressive tackle on Jordi Gomez at Wigan and we became a modern day replica of the Crazy Gang, kicking lumps out of the opposition and winning ugly with scrappy 1-0 scorelines whilst playing unattractive hit-and-hope football. To his credit Mick McCarthy has always believed the contrary. For the majority of the game Wolves outpassed Fulham, keeping the ball and sticking to attractive triangles whilst ‘one-touch’ passing and moving our way from defense to attack again and again.
One final note on the performance and indeed on the winds of change at Molineux is the emergence of new skipper Roger Johnson. He’s looking an absolute steal at £7m when he is every bit as good as Phil Jones who departed Blackburn for over twice that fee. To revoke the captain’s duties from Karl Henry was a bold yet pleasantly surprising move from the management. For years Henry has lived with the tag of being the ‘teachers pet’ at Wolves. One of the manager’s favourites, picked on personality rather than merit and never substituted or dropped — even when he looked at times more of a hindrance than a help to the team. This decision was a statement by McCarthy. Firstly that no individual should rest on their laurels and take their place for granted, and secondly that he has realised what Johnson has proved thus far – that he is a presence on the football field, a detailed organiser and a leader of men. What more could you ask for in a captain?
Still I’m not sure about the decision to start Richard Stearman out of position at right back ahead of two arguably better out and out full backs in Kevin Foley or Ronald Zubar, but we must let that slide for now as the back four looks totally transformed with Johnson as it’s heartbeat and allow ourselves to bask in the ambience that is an impressive and encouraging 100% to our third successive season in the greatest league in the world! Forever, we are Wolves.
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