Celebrations at Molineux
In a post I wrote on 9 September I pointed out that the fixture list had been kind to us. It even gave us a home fixture against the minnows, Carlisle, as the last match of the season, should we still require points to achieve promotion.
Well, we did not need them but this was still a game I was looking forward to. A dislocated collarbone before Christmas, having somersaulted over the handlebars of my road bike avoiding a car pulling out of a drive, and a badly inflamed hip joint, caused by constantly reaching over the handlebars of my turbo-mounted bike to take notes from the WW official blog on my desk top (Fact! Otto, you have a lot to answer for) meant that I visited far more hospital out-patients departments than I did football grounds during the course of the season.
However, at 9.25 a.m. on a glorious, sunny Surrey morning I was sitting on a crash barrier on an access road to the M25, waiting for a friend to whisk me off to Molineux to watch the climax of a very successful season. Even the slight hiccough of having to put off an important work-related meeting until Sunday morning had been negotiated and we were on our way.
At Warwick services we saw a couple of Wolves fans, and a lot of Fulham supporters en route to the Championship via Stoke. Cheerily, I told one of them that, "We`ll be playing you next season" but he did not seem to want to engage in friendly banter so I moved on. An hour later, having parked the car, we walked through a city centre awash with old gold and black (even if recent suppliers have clearly lost the recipe for the former colour).
Many of the fans were wearing the new strip, which I hate. Call me old-fashioned but I like collars on footie shirts. I`m even warming to my Doritos strip which I bought in the summer we went up in 2003 in spite of my aversion to advertising a firm that makes cardboard crisps. Of course, the shirt reminded my friend of the play-off final against Sheffield United which we watched together with mounting excitement as WW raced to a 3-0 lead by half-time. At the Wolves store my friend bought a replica romper suit for his three months old little dribbler. I 'm getting to the age where I need the senior citizens` version.
We took our seats in the Billy Wright Stand at about 2.30 p.m., having queued up for my 100 page souvenir match programme kept at the usual price of £3 by a surprisingly generous JM. As I turned into my row, I had the novel experience of having to shuffle past people to get to my seat at the Southbank end of the stand. Well, it was my first visit since the return of the c.30,000 crowds.
There was a carnival atmosphere in the ground with lots of fans waving banners inscribed with the words, "This is our love and it knows no division". O.K., while I do agree with the basic sentiment, it`s rather twee and mawkish and it didn`t help that the lady in the row behind me kept waving it through my exposed scalp.
So, to the match, which we all hoped would be a feast of passing and movement ... and loads of goals. In particular, I wanted to obliterate the memory of the last match of the 2012-13 season, in which a dispirited team, rent by division, tamely succumbed to an average Brighton side. Well, a different side - in terms of personnel, spirit and ability- did turn out and gave us an easy win, even though they did not get out of second gear.
Carlisle were never going to spoil the party and the quality of their shooting suggested that they never intended to do so either. Moreover, in an effort to generate some excitement, our players chose to miss a host of chances. Even Ikeme played his part, uncharacteristically fumbling the ball on a couple of occasions. More predictably, Stearman made a couple of errors, while still demonstrating why we have all changed our opinion of his ability this year.
The person who stood out for me was Ricketts. Given acres of space down the right as a result of pinpoint cross-field passes from the opposite flank, he was a constant threat. Indeed, he scored in the 5th. minute from one such move. In the 24th. minute Jacobs extended our lead with a header from a Golbourne cross.
With two overlapping full-backs like these, we will pressurize a number of Championship teams and that`s without considering the contribution that Sako will make. If he displayed his sumptuous skills only spasmodically yesterday, he still demonstrated his inestimable value to the team. Craftily, KJ took him off with a couple of minutes to go in order for him to feel the love of the crowd as they cheered him off. Jacobs was less influential than usual - no mazy runs, for instance - but he did score a routine goal.
In the inner midfield KJ gave Evans another outing, which I find surprising because I think that Price and McDonald are the better pairing. Perhaps, Kenny thought that KM could manage without JP`s support and that two box-to-box players would give us a more potent attacking force. Hmm! Neither Edwards or Evans particularly impressed me, though LE mixed sublime passes with instances of wayward control.
Then, there`s McDonald. At the beginning of the season, I wondered what all the fuss was about because I didn`t think he was that good. Of course, like everyone else, he was finding his feet. And, like everyone else, he has improved as the team gelled over the course of the season. Watching him yesterday was a joy, reminding me of WW midfielders I grew up with in the mid-to-late 1950s. He is cool, unhurried and tenacious on the ball, possesses vision and has the ability to execute the killer pass. Today, on the London underground I sat next to a Sheffield United supporter and naturally he lamented his loss. Definitely, our gain though!
Upfront, the ball was not falling right for Dicko`; on one occasion in the 42nd. minute, for instance, he snatched at a Ricketts` cross, the ball ballooning over the bar from 6 yards out. In the 56th. minute, however, he got his reward. Typically, KM set up the goal with a pass to SG, whose shot was saved, only for ND to hammer home the rebound.
In the 79th. minute Clarke came on for Dicko but suffered in comparison with the chunky Frenchman. Even when ND is not scoring, one feels that he could do so at any minute, whereas Clarke`s demeanour shouts a lack of confidence. He seemed to avoid the ball, never running into space and laying it off once he received the ball. At the end of the game he cut a lonely figure, detached from the rest of the team as he took out his shin pads from his socks.
And, so to the celebrations. Although I normally like to make a quick getaway, given the 155 mile trip home, I wanted to savour the moment and to record it with my camera. Even so, I was somewhat impatient with the lengthy delay in getting the stand and the officials in place. I wanted to see the players pogo up and down with the cup and squirt champagne over each other as soon as possible because I was picking up a friend from Gatwick airport at 10.30 p.m. In the event, he was 90 minutes late and I crawled into bed at 1.30 a.m. tired but very happy.
My returning friend, a Shrewsbury supporter, was not as cheerful but I suspect, like the Carlisle fans, he was resigned to the outcome. Hey, that was me last May!