Wolves on a high, away from Molineux
Wolves secured an excellent away win on Saturday against a Fulham team that only needed a draw to move into the play off positions, and whose current form is one of the best in the division. The fact that it came on the back of another good win at Reading and a point at Ipswich means Wolves are continuing to be one of the best teams in the Championship away from home.
The league table for away games only, has Wolves at 5th in the division now, while their home form was the worst in the division until the recent win against hapless Rotherham that was gained with a great deal of difficulty. So what are the factors that lead to this Wolves team being so successful on the road compared to their relegation standard form at Molineux.
One feature stands out and that is that the team and maybe the manager are a very good counter attacking team. At away games in 2017 at Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Liverpool, Stoke, Reading, Brentford and Fulham we have seen Wolves play excellently against teams higher up the league ladder through their ability to defend against teams with a high level of possession and then break at pace to make things happen at the other end of the pitch. Their £13m man Helder Costa benefits greatly from the space he finds when Wolves play this way and many other players in the squad seem equally comfortable with that style.
But at home when Wolves have played against teams that set themselves up for a defensive game as we saw against Rotherham, Birmingham and Wigan we see Wolves being forced onto the front foot and being unable to break the opposition down. We even saw that away at Burton where the home team allowed Wolves to come at them. Conversely when Chelsea came to Molineux we saw Wolves give their opponents a run for their money because the quality of the opposition forced Wolves to rely on counter attacking.
This is not a new issue for Paul Lambert as he was accused at Villa of being a manager over reliant on counter attacking. The Villa Park faithful were not enamoured to see their team have very low possession stats in home games, but later in his tenure when possession improved, results didn't. So he is a manager that has something to prove in being a manager that can make a home ground a fortress, and can set up a team to break down a defensive style.
So what needs to change to make Wolves a team that can get results against poor opposition at Molineux? Playing a counter attacking game against a team not set up to attack is not going to work. So Wolves need to have the cutting edge in the final third to create more chances, and to take them. There is no doubt that Wolves are hampered by the fact that their two main strikers, despite generally playing well, do not score goals. Weimann has arrived and is not as good at holding the ball up as Dicko and Bodvarsson and is not as good a target man, but he has managed a couple of goals in March.
But its not just about the front men. Edwards apart, the Wolves midfield players have not provided the support for the strikers in the final third, and lone strikers need that badly. And that's why in many ways the key moments of the wins at Brentford and Fulham in the last week were the goals scored by Doherty, Cavaleiro and Edwards. All were from no more than 4 yards out and could have been converted easily by any sunday league player. But they were only easy because the players were in the right place at the right time, and that's how most goals are scored. And Wolves have not been getting into those positions often enough in home games and there must be more commitment to get players into the opposition 18 yard area, and even 6 yard area, and then opposition defences at Molineux will have a much harder time of keeping the Wolves at bay.
If Wolves are to become a promotion team next season then they need to make Molineux a fortress and the remaining weeks of the season give them an opportunity to show they can do that, as 6 of the remaining 9 games are at home. That would increase confidence in the supporters and help the club get close to their target of selling 16,500 season tickets for next season. As things stand, an away season ticket would feel much better value for Wolves fans than securing a seat at Molineux.