I have not been very active on this site recently. If work has distracted me, I have also had to contend with a badly inflamed joint in my lower back, as my body rebelled against over sixty years of sporting abuse. It forced me to forego a trip to Molineux a week ago, even though I had bought my ticket and had transport there. Worse still, it stopped me from even trying to obtain a ticket for the Brentford match, a journey of only fifteen miles. But, I cannot let such a great result as the one we achieved yesterday go without expressing my feelings of elation.
And what a match to see! Of course, I followed it on the official blog but I would have loved to have experienced it in person, surrounded by fellow WW fans whose dreams gradually turned to reality as the game unfolded. Like everyone else I would have settled for a draw before the match ... and would have continued to do so until the 72nd. minute for that matter.
According to the blog, Brentford seemed to do most of the pressing. If that were so, it must have been even more nerve-wracking at Griffin Park than it was for me sitting in front of the screen waiting for Otto to write the next highlighted comment. Whenever the word 'Goal` pops up, my heart, conditioned by years of negative expectations, still does a nose-dive rather than a leap of joy.
Yet, the statistics tell a different story. Not only do they account for our victory on the day but also point the way to eventual success at the end of the season. We had one more shot and, more significantly, six more attempts on goal, including three scoring shots against none.
These stark figures indicate how far our team has progressed since the dark days of last season, encapsulated in the shambles I witnessed at Brighton in May. And to think most fans, including me, complained about the appointment of Kenny Jackett. Moses had an easier job parting the Red Sea! And he`s done it (KJ, that is, not Moses) in half a season and in the face of opposition from fans impatient for instant success and who roundly condemned him for not getting it right by the end of September.
Hithertoo, we were a team that leaked goals at the back, couldn`t control the midfield and failed to get the ball in the net at the other end. KJ has completely changed all that, starting at the back. I shudder to think of last season`s back four, Doherty apart, but even he is having difficulty getting back in the team. Our current success is built upon a solid defence, the most miserly in the four divisions.
While I miss Doherty`s runs down the right flank, Golbourne is doing a fine job on the other side of the pitch. Indeed, he is developing a productive partnership with Sako, as witnessed by the assists he has made in the last two games. The back-heel is an under-rated ploy! In the centre of defence Batth has come on, as expected, but the improvement in Stearman`s form has been a revelation. Well, he is twenty-six now so he should have learnt from his earlier adolescent mistakes.
It took KJ longer to get it right in midfield and before Christmas fans, including me, regularly criticised him for leaving us vulnerable to attack through the middle. We lived a charmed life for months, winning games we ought to have lost. And, the Shrewsbury match I saw was only one of them. It is therefore ironic that when KJ found the right combination in McDonald and Price, one that has provided the engine to drive us forward, we started to lose games we should have won. Remember the Gillingham match? Now we control the midfield to the point of boredom (McDonald).
Then, there`s Sako, Henry and Jacobs, two of whom are KJ`s bargain buys and the other a re-energised player. I saw Sako play at Preston at the beginning of the season and he was a liability. He couldn`t control the ball, hardly ever brought others into play and gave away fouls in dangerous areas. Perhaps the transfer rumours unsettled him but, given his poor performances, nothing was likely to come of them, especially for the price we were asking. Dropping him had an effect too, as perhaps did the signing of Dicko, another Frenchman. He`s now a team player and we`re gaining the benefits: what a great pass to Jacobs for our second goal yesterday.
And what about Jacobs? As a winger he did not make the same impact as Henry did when he first arrived. But, operating behind Dicko, he has suddenly found his niche and is banging in goals for fun. Long may Clarke`s heel continue to cause him pain. I was probably not alone in hoping that he had not recovered in time for the Brentford trip. On the right flank, Henry is beginning to recover some of his early WW form, perhaps because his groin strain has cleared up. He`s started scoring goals again, though I thought the one he netted yesterday came into the Golbourne category, that is, a cross that went wrong.
When Clarke is fit, KJ will have a problem because he cannot drop Jacobs, and Henry deserves to keep his place as well. Neither can he drop Dicko, who continues to impress, although he has missed a few easy chances ... like the one against Notts County last week. He was again unlucky yesterday, though reports suggest that the poor quality of the pitch meant we could not play to his strengths, that is, it was difficult to keep the ball down, nullifying his electric pace.
But, with umpteen games to play next month we will need to rotate and with Clarke, along with players like Davis, Doherty, Edwards, Evans and McAlinden, we will be able to cope better than most teams. Mind you, I wonder what KJ will do if Doherty plays a stormer, rampaging down the right flank, setting up goals and perhaps scoring one himself. Will he drop the captain? The old answer would have been to shift SR to left back: but not any more. Clearly, he is an excellent captain and will remain in the team this season, but next season is, well, another season, especially if we are in the Championship.
It`s invidious making comparisons between the current team and the one I watched in the 1950s. Apart from anything else, we are two divisions lower. But, in many ways the situation is similar. When I stood on the South Bank nearly sixty years ago, I was watching the best team in the land. I knew we would win. I am beginning to get the same feeling again. Even better, we are doing it with style. Cullis`s long ball tactics were more sophisticated than his critics gave him credit for but would they have been as successful today? The passing game which KJ has drilled into our present squad is not only attractive to watch but is also effective, leading me to hope that we will not struggle in the Championship next year.
Things are looking up ... now all I have to do is sort out my back before the Crawley match.