Wolves: A Fourth to be Reckoned With.
This was another pleasing result, as WW continue to demonstrate that they have learnt how to grind out victories. It's not pretty but it is effective.
It marks a refreshing change to be at the ground, celebrating four successive victories, especially as I have to earn my presence there. Indeed, I had to tread very carefully today as the match marked my first full day on the road watching WW. As a result, I spent the week paying my dues, which included a pub lunch and a trip to a stately home on Tuesday, though, admittedly, it was my wife`s birthday.
Last season, one of the pleasures (or shared misery) of travelling up to Molineux by car was the impromptu interviews with fellow-WW supporters at service stations to and from the South-east. I had written half of my report by the time I had made my third stop on the way home. This season I am letting the train 'take the strain`.
An impulsive purchase of a 'hot hatch` in the Spring, a final hurrah as a geriatric boy racer before having to clamber into an invalid buggy, put the cost of motoring up to the West Midlands beyond my pension. Even so, this season`s reports should be more finely honed and considered since I am able to discuss the match at leisure with my friend as we hurtle home on Virgin Rail (for the moment at least).
My friend is lucky because his wife accompanies him to the match, a concession which mine steadfastly refuses to makes, even though (as I regularly point out) I am as allergic to visits to garden centres, DIY stores and carpet and soft furnishings shops as she is to football matches (allegedly).
Reviewing the season so far with my friend in Upper BW before the match, we agreed that the signs were promising and that the team was making progress. We were particularly impressed with SS, having read about his use of video recordings to force the players to think about their actions in a game and to consider the possibility of better options.
We both discounted the hammering by Chelsea on Tuesday, though I had a residual niggling doubt that it might cast a dark shadow over the whole squad. I also thought that SW could not be taken lightly. After all, they had started well in August and the margin between success and failure is often small (though not if you consider our performances last season).
I should not have worried. After an evenly balanced first quarter, WW gradually imposed their authority on the game and were clearly the better team by half-time. Our superiority became more pronounced in the second half and towards the end of the game I even dared to tempt fate by telling my friend that we were managing to contain the threat posed by SW with ease.
Sheffield Wednesday certainly spent time in and around our box in the second half as we typically defended ever more deeply but our back four successfully snuffed out any threat to our goal. Johnson played well throughout the game and Berra improved steadily as the game progressed. Naturally, he gave away a daft free kick, pushing an opponent just outside our penalty area in the 16th. minute, but thereafter he made a number of vital blocks, tackles and headers. Even so, our two central defenders have yet to buy into SS`s passing game completely, largely resorting to the hoof upfield when finding the ball at their feet.
Fortunately, our full backs are quicker learners and both Ward and Foley proved adept at moving the ball out of defence, as well as supporting their wingers going forward. Foley had a particularly good game, solid and cool in defence and linking up well with Peszko. On the other flank Ward did not have the same understanding with Sako, partly because the latter likes to drive forward with the ball himself.
At this point I have to rectify a shameful oversight in previous posts by emphasizing how well Ikeme is playing. He had very little to do but what he did do, he did well ... as ever. He commands the box and deals with shots with calm efficiency. Henners cannot expect to walk back into the side while Carl is in this form.
If Sako is one of the first names inked in on the team-sheet, it appears as though SS intends to rotate Boukari and Peszko ... that is, until Boukari limped off in the 13th. minute. I hope he is fit for Tuesday as he looked lively and sharp . Peszko had a better game than he did the last time I saw him play, regularly beating his man on the outside. On one occasion in the 21st. minute only an unpunished body-check prevented him from racing down the touch-line. He also cuts in at pace, one effort in the 63rd. minute whistling over the bar.
In the inner midfield Doumbia was superb, putting in a veritable McCarthian shift as he constantly made himself available for a pass, advancing with the ball and bringing a colleague into play. He also defended stoutly. Henry played his normal game, tackling and intercepting well but still prone to the misdirected pass (the first in the 8th. minute) and the dither under pressure. In contrast, Sako and Doumbia were very composed on the ball and difficult to shake off it.
Upfront, Doyle continues to impress with his control, pace on the ball and his lay-offs. In the 15th. minute he dropped a pinpoint cross onto SEB`s head but the latter could only balloon it over the bar. Even so, SEB had a good game, full of bustle and displaying neat touches, but without seriously threatening the goal. Siggy replaced him in the 82nd. minute, which is becoming predictable, but made little impression on the game.
The Solbakken revolution is clearly progressing and the contrast with MM`s tactics and formation is very marked. We are holding onto the ball much better and players are not only running into space but are also receiving the ball. Of course, movements still break down but I witnessed numerous examples of patient but positive build-ups of play with the ball being worked forward into danger areas.
What is letting us down is our lack of sharpness in front of goal. We engineered few real chances in the penalty area, though we did unleash some near misses from a distance. One shot from Sako in the 25th. minute clipped the crossbar. At least a goal-kick was given, though all of us in our corner of Upper BW thought that the goalie had tipped it over.
Sako`s goal came from a thunderous dead-ball strike from just outside the penalty area, having noted the hole in the right hand side of the defensive wall. It was lucky that he got a second chance as his first, tame effort was ruled void, having shot before the referee had blown his whistle. It earned him a booking! He is deadly in such situations but, just to prove that he is human, he sometimes makes a hash of it.
Resisting the temptation to look at the league table as soon as I returned home (it seemed politic to sit down and watch the X-Factor with my wife), I eventually found out that we are equal top on points, if third on goal difference. What a turn around. If we get three more points against Crystal Palace on Tuesday we might even be top.
We will need them too (as well as giving a further boost to the players` morale) because thereafter we face difficult away fixtures up North against three of our promotion rivals. Perform well in those matches and we can with confidence begin to dream of a favourable outcome at the end of the season.
A final caveat though! We are still a work in progress for there is much that remains to be done if we are to perfect the new system. The fixture list has allowed us the time to get used to unfamiliar modes of play and to apply them against mediocre opponents. We are learning but we are shortly to be put to a severe test. I am reasonably upbeat about the outcome.