It's Still Work in Progress
In two hours time we kick off against Leeds and I am feeling just as worried about our fortunes this season as I was at the same time last year. While I am sure we will not be relegated, I cannot claim with confidence that we will bounce back immediately.
Probably, my emotions will turn as many somersaults too. Last year, having viewed the opening of our third season in the PL with a great deal of trepidation, given how close we came to going down, my spirits rose during the course of August. Having secured two wins and a draw, surely we were going to avoid the drop? Events soon proved me wrong and, if I did entertain occasional hopes of salvation, it was only because the teams around us kept losing too. In essence, our season resembled an epic Italian operatic death-bed scene: long, drawn-out and painful to watch.
So, I was not as depressed as I should have been when the season ended. At least, we had the opportunity to regroup, plug the holes and to try out new tactics in the less rarefied atmosphere of the Championship. We might even win a few games.
We started the rebuilding process well, appointing the charismatic Stale Solbakken, a manager with a proven European reputation and one who surely would drag our team into the modern era. The Solbakken effect , moreover, enabled us to sign up talented overseas players, namely, Sigurdarson, Doumbia and Peszko. Unfortunately, he did not manage to acquire Demidov, who would have helped to ease our difficulties at centre back. Frankfurt offered him more money.
And this is the problem. While I am pleased that the club is solvent and the board financially prudent, its refusal to venture enough of our savings on players who would cover our weaknesses ensures that promotion will not be easy. Naturally, if we do acquire £25,000,000 from the sale of Fletcher and Jarvis, we will be able to buy suitable replacements ... but will it happen and will we be able to unearth and attract quality players to Molineux before the transfer window closes? In the meantime, we have resentful players on our hands and a dodgy defence.
Tactically, too, I am worried about our prospects in the short-term. Clearly, we did not get it right under MM or TC. Apart from the hoof upfield and a reliance on our wingers, we were tactically bereft. In addition, we could not keep the ball, pass accurately or run into space. Nor did the three elements of the team work as units. Solbakken is addressing all these problems but it is going to take time ... and the acquisition of players who can play the system.
And, now to the game.
Although a great disappointment, I feared for this result. At least, if it does reveal the magnitude of the task in front of us, we are aware of the fact with time to do something about it. In particular, our defence was woeful: flat, slow, lacking in positional sense and always vulnerable to the through ball. Take the Leeds goal: a kick upfield by Kenny picked up by McCormack on the left wing and a perfect cross to Becchio beyond our flat back four. Neither Zubar and Ward were effective when overlapping down the wing either. Clear the lot out and buy replacements. Sell Fletcher and Jarvis if we have to.
The trouble is that we also need a striker who can score goals and at the moment Fletcher is the only player who comes into that category. According to the statistics, we had the majority of the possession but never really troubled Kenny, even after we started to dominate the game in the last fifteen minutes. On the other hand, Leeds were always dangerous on the break. Of the two, Doyle looked sharper than SEB and held the ball up well without having a sight of goal. That was SEB`s role but his touch was poor. Sigurdarson replaced him in the 68th. minute but he saw little of the ball, apart from ballooning it over the bar in the 94th . minute.
The liveliest player upfront was Jarvis, who tried his hardest throughout the game (no sulking there). Initially, he had the beating of young Byram but the lad improved as the game progressed. In the second half Peszko replaced Forde and immediately added an extra dimension to our play. He`s a tricky, punchy character and looks like a great signing. Mind you, he should have nodded the ball across the goal to Doyle in the 74th. minute rather than attempting to head in from a very acute angle.
Of the positives, Ikeme exhibited an air of authority in goal and made several vital saves and interceptions. Doumbia continues to impress with his action-man performance,positive approach and composure on the ball, while Henry was solid once he had got over the loose pass he made in the first minute. Indeed, one glorious through ball from him in the 56th. minute presented Peszko with a clear run on goal. Unfortunately, he elected to square the ball to Doyle, who overran it.
So, it`s very much work in progress for Solbakken. It is going to take time for the players to adjust to the new regime and it will probably get worse before it gets better. After the Leeds goal the commentator pointed out the high line maintained by our defence, a risky strategy with such slow, cumbersome defenders and emphasizes the need to bring in replacements immediately. It should be noted that Leeds played with seven newly signed players and they looked a far more cohesive outfit.
Even so, I am reasonably optimistic that, taking the season as a whole, we will have sorted out our problems and will gather momentum in the run-in. That would be good news for me because I ought to have recovered from my knee operation in the new year, which is preventing me from travelling to the ground (though my wife is dropping me there on 16 September for the Leicester game).
As I shall be forced to view many of the matches on the internet, I would welcome suggestions of suitable sites from anyone out there.