Date:Sunday October 28 2012
I started watching the Wolves as a ten year old in 1954 and by the time I stopped going in 1960 (I was playing rugby for the town team on Saturday afternoons), I had witnessed the greatest period of football in the club`s history.
Unlike today, we never worried about the result because we invariably won. We were, by any impartial assessment, the greatest team in the country. I even saw us beat Honved, Real Madrid and Moscow Spartak. In spite of one or two memorable moments (a UEFA final and two League Cup victories), we never scaled the same heights again. And there have been desperate times too.
My spirits lifted briefly on our return to the PL in 2003-4 and again in 2009-10, only for them to be completely flattened by the disastrous campaign of 2011-12, which ironically started with an unlikely combination of two wins and a draw. If only MM had departed at the end of the previous season.
As a result, my confidence in the team`s ability (if not my support) has gradually drained away. Nowadays, as a regular attender again, watching the game is an almost unbearable experience, so tense do I feel.
Even so, I thought that the appointment of Stöle Solbakken, a manager with a proven European reputation, augured well for the future. Here was a man who would drag the club into the contemporary footballing world after the sterile tactical desert of the MM regime.
And the SS revolution seemed to be working. After an understandably dodgy start, we put together a string of good results which enabled us to climb up to 3rd. spot in the league. Astute signings allowed us to forget about the loss of Jarvis and Kightly; his reshaping of the team made us harder to break down at the back; and, incredibly, we were keeping clean sheets. Admittedly, we were not scoring many goals - we really do miss Fletcher- but we were doing enough ... just.
If only it were that easy, and improvement came about as a linear progression. It isn`t and to prove it we have just come down with a bump: only two points gained from the past three games. To make matters worse we twice failed to hold onto a lead (and don`t forget the Crystal Palace result) and were incapable of making pressure tell against Huddersfield. We gave away soft goals and lacked a clinical finish upfront.
Of course, I am disappointed but I am not despondent and am convinced that under SS we will succeed. We may not sprint back into the PL because the manager is planning for the long-term, that is, to create a team that is not only capable of promotion but, more importantly, of staying there. For a club like ours these objectives might well entail different approaches.
And there are reasons to be cheerful, in spite of the moaners, which have at times included me: the experience of following WW`s fortunes over nearly 60 years has turned me from an optimist into a pessimist.
Firstly, the players have begun to regain their confidence as they have won games. That is why at this critical juncture it is important to give the players our full support, even when we fall behind or lose a lead. After all, we have found it easy to get in front in the first place (so why do we stop carrying on in the same way thereafter?).
In Sako we have a player, who not only can score goals but also provide assists. If we have not buried more of the chances presented to us, we have come close on numerous occasions. How unlucky were we yesterday when Doumbia`s goal touched the offside Doyle on its way into the net? We will improve our conversion ratio. With Sako, Boukari, Peszko and, for the time being, Pennant we possess wingers, who can not only turn their man on the outside but who can also cut inside into the box. Pennant is getting better by the game.
In the inner midfield, Doumbia offers us other options, driving forward on goal, unleashing shots from a distance or making himself available for the pass. He particularly flourishes when the presence of Henry allows him greater freedom to move forward. For all his faults, Henry is an excellent enforcer at this level. By Christmas O`Hara will be vying for a place.
Defensively, the performances of Johnson and Berra this season have been a revelation and provide early indications of the success of SS`s insistence that the players work in units and that units operate together in unison. Considering the pressure Bolton exerted in the second half, to ship a single goal was an achievement.
Foley is also returning to form. He and Pennant are linking together well, just as Ward and Sako are doing so on the left. Yesterday, a great touch from Pennant put Foley through and it was from his cross that Sako scored. Behind them, Ikeme`s heroics are likely to keep the returning Hennessey out of the side.
Even so, we are clearly not the finished article as the costly errors of the last few matches have proved. We are still a team in transition and it is going take more time before the players unlearn MM`s outmoded tactics and fully adopt SS`s methods and, more importantly, instinctively execute them.
At times, we have not been well organised and have left gaps in midfield which the opposition has exploited. We still panic and defend too deeply when under pressure. Our classy foreign imports (including our manager) have not always grasped the fundamentals of Championship football. For instance, it is not wise to retreat and defend deeply a one goal lead. We should maintain an offensive capability and hold a high line. Neither have they fully acclimatized to the pace and physicality of the game over here.
We could also do with a traditional centre forward, one who would get on the end of the stream of crosses sent over. Perhaps we should have doubled Fletcher`s salary, promising him that he could go with our blessing at the end of the year, come what may. No-one fits the bill at home, though Cassidy and Griffiths are scoring for fun elsewhere. What about giving Nouble a chance?
But, we should not panic and allow our natural frustration at the loss of points from winnable positions to rubbish all that has been achieved so far ... and in a comparatively short space of time. We do now resemble a team rather than a collection of individuals and I have been impressed with much of our build-up work. We are tighter at the back and we are engineering a significant number of chances. Once the team gells around SS`s methods we will see a tremendous improvement: solidity at the back, neat, precise interplay, greater movement, a more dynamic offensive capacity and all played at a higher tempo.
I am not suggesting that we will notice a complete transformation at Turf Moor on Saturday but I confidently expect to see real signs of progress by the end of the year. So, let`s not make the lads` task any harder by demanding miracles before they can deliver them. Stay positive, think happy thoughts and give the team our full support.
Date:Sunday October 28 2012
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