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Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Inside Line: Wolverhampton Wanderers (25/01/2014)

Whilst there is seemingly a new mood of optimism around BS3, in no small part down to the recent unbeaten run, that positive spirit faces some stiff tests in the next few games with trips to all of the top three inside 18 days. We should remember that getting anything out of those games will be an achievement and not bemoan/overly criticise a draw, or even a narrow defeat.  We’re in the bottom four and they’re the top three for a very good reason, even if it’s “only” Orient and Brentford.

We kick off that run with a trip a what has been a very unhappy hunting ground over recent years, Molineux, to face the ‘giants’ of League One, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Twenty years to the day on from our famous win at Anfield, is it time for another 'giant'-killing?

Stu Radnedge picks up the story…

With the teams facing each other at the ‘business end’ of the season, you couldn't have two more starkly contrasting tales of life after being relegated from the Championship last May. Wolves have largely lived up to the hype and look like fulfilling the bookies expectation of regaining Championship status at the first ask, whilst City continue to languish with yet another new manager trying to dig us out of the mire.

I asked Wolves blogger Nathan Lloyd for his take on the Black Country outfit’s season so far.

Despite currently sitting in third place, do you think you'll be able to catch Leyton Orient and Brentford?
Our double drop from the Premier League down to League One left us with a squad which, on paper, looked far too strong for League One, but the reality was that there was an unhealthy clique left over from the McCarthy era.  Players like O’Hara, Johnson, Ward, Henry and Doyle performed well under Mick’s tutelage, but showed a complete lack of fight for the cause when the big grumpy eagle was sacked.  That left the club with big earners who obviously didn’t have the stomach for a lower league battle. 

So, after 12 months of managerial turmoil (more of that later), we now seem to have a settled squad and with one or two tweaks, there should be no reason why we can’t catch the top two.

We’re in the final few days of the January transfer window and there could potentially be some comings and goings from both sides before Saturday’s game. In an ideal world, who would you like to keep from your squad and who would you preferably get rid of?
We have managed to ship a few of the big time Charlie’s out of the squad, such as Roger Johnson who has already demonstrated to West Ham fans how woeful he is with a string of defensively inept performances.  Karl Henry has left for QPR and Stephen Ward has gone on loan to Brighton. 

But that has still left us with Jamie O’Hara on the books rotting in the reserves.  And despite numerous pseudo Ebay campaigns, he continues to pick up a reported £35k a week.  Along with Jamie, I think it would be best for both parties if Kevin Doyle departed for pastures new. 

Kenny Jackett has made two shrewd signings on the flanks in Michael Jacobs and James Henry, both of whom have been brilliant in the last half a dozen games.  Therefore I wouldn't be too upset if somebody came in and finally snapped up Bakary Sako, a player who is typically an utter disaster for 95% of a game, but seems to keep his place in the side by demonstrating one flash of brilliance which can turn a match in our favour.

The contrasting league positions of teams are not replicated in recent form, especially over the crucial Christmas period.  City are now undefeated in five, whereas Wolves (around the New Year time) drew with Orient and Tranmere and lost to Gillingham. They also lost two on the bounce in the games before Christmas against Posh and the plastics (MK Dons). Could this be attributed to the lack of a clinical finisher at Molineux?
You couldn’t be more spot on!  Early in the season we got lucky in many games against the likes of Crawley and Swindon who dominated the play at Molineux but ultimately lost because we were the more clinical side. 

Four months later and there’s now a role reversal.  Against Orient at home we were incredible in the first half and played some of the best football I’d seen from us in years.  Roared on by a full house at Molineux, we created chance after chance but didn't convert and the inevitable happened in the 2nd half when the O’s equalised. 

Gillingham away, a game I watched in a bar in Malta with the Maltese Wolves fan club, was a similar story.  Probably the most dominant, one-sided display I’d seen us play in years, but without the goals we fell foul of a scrappy injury time goal and came away empty handed. 

Leigh Griffiths started the season really well following his successful Scottish spell last term, but his form has really tailed off in the last couple of months.  So Jackett has tried various combinations up front, including Jake Cassidy, who despite banging in a load of goals whilst on loan at Tranmere, has failed to hit the net in a Wolves shirt.  Kenny has now recruited Nouha Dicko from Wigan, a player who had a brief spell at Wolves on loan last season.  Dicko scored five goals in five games whilst on loan at Rotherham, so expect him to start on Saturday.

Gaffer Kenny Jackett has received many plaudits for the fortunes at your club. Is he worthy of it - or do you think with the talent in the squad that it would have taken an imbecile to not have Wolves in contention for promotion?
I'm firmly in the camp who believes that Jackett is the right man to lead Wolves.  Mick McCarthy had a similar task when he took over the reins in 2006; inheriting a terrible squad and having to quickly turn things around.  Kenny was left with a really disjointed team and has gone about trying to dismantle the squad and dispose of the expensive misfits he was left with.  He has finally given the youth a chance, something his predecessors Solbakken and  Saunders neglected to do.  And as a result he has been rewarded with some players who are really proving their worth, especially in the likes of local lad Danny Batth, who has been a rock at the back.  If Kenny can just solve the striker conundrum, then he will probably find more plaudits coming his way when promotion is secured.

What strengths should City fans be wary of when we visit on Saturday?
I’ve already mentioned the pacey wingers, Henry and Jacobs, where Robins’ fans will probably see a lot of our creative play instigated on Saturday.  But a lot of our best passing in the final third has come this season from Kevin McDonald, our big central midfielder.  I’d hope that Dicko makes his debut and hits the road running and it’ll be interesting to see, if Griffiths is still at the club come Saturday, whether Kenny is bold enough to play the two up top.

What do you believe will be City's strengths in the match?
Sam Baldock and Emmanuel-Thomas are the obvious threats, but I also think Steve Cotterill is an excellent tactician and will steer the Robins out of danger.

Can I get a score prediction?
I would like to think we can turn some of our recent good performances into a positive scoreline and come away from the game with a 2-0.  However, if Bristol City start the game like they did against the Dons, then who knows what could happen!  Here's to a cracking match!

The Exiled Robin

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  1. 'Giants'? Why the inverted commas?

    We are founder members of the football league. We were declared 'Champions of the World' in the 50s after our famous victories over the leading teams of the day, precipitating dawn of the European Cup. We've won the league and both cups several times over, and are still one of the all-time most successful English clubs (in terms of both silverware and top flight match wins).
    Our highest attendance this season was greater than the average gate of 8 of the current Premier League teams, but even back in the 80s when we dropped from 1st to 4th tier in successive relegations, we took 40,000 fans to Wembley for the Sherpa Van Trophy final.

    Laugh and sneer all you want, but we are still giants of English football. No inverted commas required.

    Regarding the match: I'll go with our Nathan, 2-0 the lads.

  2. Don't be stupid, big club for league 1 but no way are you giants, ridiculous comment

  3. To the original poster, the inverted commas were absolutely necessary, bearing in mind I was specifically referring to us beating Liverpool, then-recent Champions of England and giants of European football, in 1994. In comparison, especially looking at the last fifty years (which is all most people can remember), they're perfectly legitimate.

    However, despite this rationale, they would have been valid anyway. For all your history, you are no longer giants. Once-great, perhaps, sleeping giants, maybe, but you're stacked some distance behind the big guns at this point in time, given your recent patchy record and lack of any significant success.


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