To say it has been a year of contrast for us Wolves fans is a one hell of an understatement as we’ve gone from Paul ‘Did I tell you I played in Germany’ Lambert to Nuno Espirito Santo, Nouha Dicko to Diogo Jota and Dave Edwards to Ruben Neves to name just three changes which shows you how much has changed at Molineux in twelve months. In part one of four, we will be looking at the first quarter of 2017 which saw us make rare progress in the FA Cup, flirt with relegation and just about cling on to hopes of a late dash for the play-offs.
2017 kicked off in the least entertaining of fashions as we drew 0-0 at Hillsborough with Sheffield Wednesday, we had more of the ball but there wasn’t an awful lot going on in the game if the truth be told. Sort of summed up where we were in general as we had Paul Lambert in the dugout who inspired absolutely no one, I would have rather kept Zenga on board, at least it would have been a laugh.
In early December, the third round draw for the FA Cup was made and we were dealt a decent hand for a change as we were drawn away at Mark Hughes’ Stoke in what was a chance to come away from the pressures of Championship football and give some of the players on the outskirt of the team a run out. The game was just under half an hour old when Helder Costa, who was still on loan at this point, continued what he had been doing all season long and put us in the lead with our first shot on target. Matt Doherty doubled our lead with not long left on the clock and maybe could dream about a trip to Wembley, Que sera, sera and all that. Lambert was still a prick, though.
A couple of days after the heroics in the Staffordshire, we found that our next trip was to Merseyside and Liverpool would be our opponents in what would be the penultimate game of the month. Back to the reality of league football was next on the agenda though as we had a West Midlands derby with Aston Villa in what was the opening game in 2017 at Molineux; it was all set up, 530 kick off, live on Sky, this was the type of game we would mess up. This time, was different. Joe Mason, who is now on Burton’s treatment table, gave us an early lead and we held on from there to give us a much needed three points, it was not that we were brilliant against Villa, it was more to do with them being absolutely pony, but either way, it’s always nice to beat your rivals. Maybe Lambert wasn’t so bad after all.
In the week in between the Villa game and our next outing at Norwich, there was still a worrying lack of transfer activity as we still were looking for the striker to replace Benik Afobe who left what seems like an eternity ago, yet as the team went off to Carrow Road on the 21st of January, we still hadn’t added anyone to the ranks. After an hour it was honours even against one of Lambert’s former clubs as man of the hour, Helder Costa, brought us level from the penalty spot after a goal from Steven Naismith put them in the ascendancy; a few minutes after Costa had equalised, Bodvarsson was brought on for Nouha Dicko as it would seem that Lambert would be looking to slightly alter the approach to the game.
The withdrawal of Dicko was the last sub that Lambert could use, with Weimann and Enobakhare brought on earlier in the game and he would live to rue that decision just six minutes later as Ikeme, who we’ll come onto later, was given a red card as Norwich were awarded a ridiculously soft penalty. If it was any other team, it’s always quite eventful to watch an outfield player in goal, but when it’s your own side, you die a little bit inside and that’s exactly what I did as Matt Doherty gloved up to face a Robbie Brady penalty. Unsurprisingly, Brady made it 2-1 to Norwich and in stoppage time, Howson made it 3-1 to condemn us to yet another defeat which led Lambert to say: “At 1-1 that game could have gone anywhere. We’ve been unfortunate we’ve lost our goalkeeper and the penalty.” It was exactly bullshit like this which made me despise the twat even more. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was prejudiced from the beginning as he was an ex-Villa manager, but to say stuff like that when we only had one shot on target from open play throughout the course of the game is just stupid.
On the horizon next was our trip to Anfield and once again, another game had arrived without us making any movement in the transfer window which had seen me go past the worrying stage and I was now on the cusp of a mental breakdown as I knew it meant another few months of seeing Dave Edwards run around without actually really doing anything in particular. There was some rest bite for my state of mind as we performed brilliantly at Liverpool and before the game was even a minute old, we were 1-0 up through Richard Stearman after an assist, by, you guessed it, Helder Costa.
The game went back and forth for a bit before Costa was spearheading another attack as he released Andi Weimann who rounded the Scousers keeper to make it 2-0 and send the travelling Wolves fans into dreamland. We were 2-0 up before halftime, away at Liverpool after losing 3-1 at Norwich the week before, figure that one out. Such is the joy of being a Wolves supporter. Origi pulled one back for the bin dippers with about eight minutes left if you include stoppage time, but, somehow, we stood strong and claimed another Premier League scalp which sent us into round five of the FA Cup for the first time in nine years.
We were dealt our worst hand of all for the next round of the FA Cup as we found out that Chelsea would be coming to town and with the form that they were showing in the Premier League, it was going to be, let’s say, slightly difficult, to get the same result that we had got at Stoke and Liverpool. Before our last game of the month, at long last there was some transfer activity as the signing of the heavily influential Helder Costa was made permanent for the cool sum of £13,000,000 and we brought in Ben Marshall from Blackburn for just under 1.5 million meaning that we had once again failed to address the lack of firepower in our team.
On the last day of the month, we travelled to Yorkshire where we faced Paul Heckingbottom’s Barnsley in a game where the home side were slight favourites due to their loftier league position. We made a mockery of their favourites tag five minutes in when Kortney Hause put us in front and before halftime had arrived, we were 2-0 to the good as Dave Edwards headed in from a Connor Ronan freekick and before the whistle sounded for the interval, things got even better as Alex Mowatt was sent off for the ‘Tykes’ which meant that as the game was only forty-five minutes old, we were 2-0 up and a man to the good, as well.
The second half was steady as opposed to spectacular as Edwards added his second of the game to put us 3-0 up with just over ten minutes left, but then, just three minutes later, Barnsley got what was only a consolation when Marc Roberts scored after Burgoyne smartly saved a shot from ex-Wolves boy Adam Hammill. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a very good result but in my opinion, it was a case of papering over the cracks as Barnsley still had more shots on goal despite the fact they had ten men for more than half of the game.
So that was that for January in what was a rather bizarre month that only saw us play once at home, but overall, it was a good month as we claimed two Premier League scalps and only lost once in the league. January Position: 16th | Points from playoffs: 11 | Points from relegation zone: 10 | Points overall: 35
The second month of the year saw us have four league games, three of those at home and the FA Cup encounter at home to table-topping Chelsea to get our teeth into. If we were going to get anywhere near the play-offs, then this would be a key month as we had home advantage for a lot of it and our only away game was against Burton, who let’s face it, aren’t the best.
We’ll begin with that game at the Pirelli Stadium against Burton Albion as Wolves fans were dead excited by the thought of a terrace and a new one at that as it was the first time we had ever played Burton away competitively, so the tickets were very much like gold dust. On the back of the win at Barnsley, it was a game that we were expected to win, especially considering that we were seven points ahead of them, you see, that’s the keyword there, were. A ding-dong battle is the best way to describe the first half and it also sounds quite funny so we’re all winners today, but it was us who took the lead through a certain Helder Costa who netted from the penalty spot after Dave Edwards was brought down. You’ll notice throughout the first half of this review that Edwards does contribute quite a lot in terms of goals and assists etc, but I just don’t like him, so I may not be the most complimentary towards him.
Looking over the BBC report from the Burton game, it says ‘Paul Lambert’s side struggled to create anything of note after the break’ which is hardly a breakthrough at all when it comes to our lack of creativity, but there was a pattern forming and that was, basically, that we were shite. As you’ll come to notice as another pattern as well, our ex-players love scoring against us and the Burton game was no different as Michael Kightly, who we plucked from non-league obscurity, drew Burton level on his debut, typical.
After Kightly scored there was only ever going to be one winner and that wasn’t going to be us as Lambert, as I mentioned earlier, inspires nothing or no one and it also doesn’t help that half the team couldn’t understand him. Anyway, the game entered stoppage time and Burton got a corner. There was only ever one outcome from that corner and every Wolves fan on the planet would have been expecting it as we have come to accept we love conceding late goals. Lo and behold, Cauley Woodrow pops up, 2-1. Thank you and goodnight.
That put Burton four points behind us. If you asked Fosun when they brought us off Steve Morgan where they would see themselves in the first week of February, I think four points ahead of Burton would not have been on their mind at all, but hey ho, here we were. The week after wasn’t going to be any more favourable, either as we had Newcastle next up on the fixture list, but it was on TV and it was our first home game since the Villa game, so hopefully, it would yield a similar, if not better result.
Mitrovic had the ‘Toon’ one nil up at half-time but there were question marks about whether he should have even been on the pitch at that point after he made a daft tackle whilst already being on a yellow card, but there’s no point thinking about what might have been and what have you because, at the end of the day, it was awful defending that presented him with the ball in the six-yard box and even if Mitrovic wasn’t on the pitch, someone else would have put it away. ‘Wolves were well-organised at the back, but struggled to create chances’ is part of the BBC report on this game, so for the second week running, we looked absent of any creativity yet Lambert persisted to leave Ivan Cavaleiro out the eighteen, well done Paul. The game finished 1-0, just in case you were wondering.
Luckily, after the Newcastle game, the lads had ample opportunity to make amends for the two defeats so far in February as Wigan, who were second from bottom, came to Molineux only three days after the narrow defeat at the hands of Benitez’ Newcastle. The game fell on what is meant to be arguably the most romantic day of the year, Valentines Day, yet, when the full-time whistle was blown, there was no love being shown to Paul Lambert as we fell to a third successive defeat, but this was one was the worst of the lot as Wigan were meant to be down and out, but somehow, they beat us.
Just to prove that Lambert didn’t really bother with learning from his mistakes, it was again a goal from a set piece which made it the third game in a row we had conceded from a free kick or a corner. Wigan defender, Jake Buxton, rose the highest to put it past Carl Ikeme with only two minutes left on the clock which left little time for us to respond, but, what you will find funny is this within the match report; ‘Paul Lambert’s side lacked cutting edge in the final third’. The reason I find it so funny is that it was the same bollocks week in, week out and everyone could see it apart from Lambert, I’m so glad we’ve moved on to bigger and better things.
In January, we lost to Norwich and then done a job on Liverpool at Anfield, so this time around, could we do a job on Chelsea after losing at home to Wigan? It would certainly be the most ‘Wolves’ thing imaginable. It was near pandemonium inside Molineux within the opening minutes as ex-Chelsea player George Saville, missed by the finest of margins and if that had gone in, who knows what might have been. As it happens, we began to tire in the second half and as we couldn’t keep up the same intensity, Chelsea started to find gaps and exploit them as goals from Pedro and Diego Costa meant they came away with a 2-0 win meaning we still wouldn’t be making the trip to Wembley. At least we could focus on the league now because we are good in that. Oh hang on, we’re not. Blues at home next up. Local derby at home, on TV; I was hoping we could recreate some of the magic which saw us see off Villa.
I’ll begin by giving you some context on this game against Birmingham as it’ll give you a better understanding of it all; coming into the game, Blues were on a run worse than us meaning that it was the ideal opportunity to put some daylight between ourselves and the drop zone. Zola’s side had won one in fourteen coming into the game at Molineux yet, by the interval they were two-nil up; goals from Kieftenbeld and ex-Wolves player David Davis who celebrated in front of the South Bank and got showered with coins for his troubles meant that we had it all to do in the second half.
Two shots on target were all that was produced in the first half and both of those ended up in the back of our net and with this being the last game of a torrid February, something had to be done. Dicko was introduced at halftime to play alongside Bodvarsson in what was an obvious do or die move by Lambert and credit where it’s due, he had to do something because we were staring down the barrel of defeat, yet again. Eight minutes had been played in the second half and we were dealt a lifeline as the horrible bastard that is Paul Robinson decided to do us a favour and got sent off for swinging an arm at Bodvarsson in a move that was definitely intentional because he’s just that sort of person. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but if the opposition gets reduced to ten men, one of the first things you’d do as a manager would be to make a substitution so you’ve got more attack-minded players on the pitch, not Lambert though, not a chance.
After what happened at Norwich, you can understand him not wanting to risk it just in case, but we still had two subs left, so you’d at least make one change and looking at our bench from that night Enobakhare would have been the perfect candidate as him and Dicko collectively would have stretched the hell out of their defence. Lambert knows best though, obviously as he only made one change the whole game which makes no sense to anyone at all, but, there was a chance we could salvage something after the mercurial Costa put it on a plate for Dicko who couldn’t miss and it was 2-1 with roughly twenty minutes left.
Surely he would make a sub now? Nope. To cut a long story short, we lost and their keeper made one save all game. They had ten men. Just let that sink in for a little while, because it was just a massive sea of shit that we were dealing with. At least February was over, surely it could only better, couldn’t it? February position: 20th | Points from playoffs: 23 | Points from relegation zone: 2 | Overall points: 35.
March began at the Madejski stadium as we looked to turn our dismal run around otherwise we would be in danger of going back into the third tier of English football for the second time in recent years. Lambert finally decided to play Romain Saiss and lo and behold, our performance was much better, so much so that we had more shots than Reading and more shots on target in what was seemingly a Christmas miracle arriving a few months late. It was very much a typical performance from us as the game had no shots on target for the opening forty minutes of the game but then the aforementioned Romain Saiss managed to test Al Habsi in the Reading goal as we looked to take the lead.
Despite us having the opening shot on target of the game, it was Yann Kermorgant who got the first goal of the game as he went clear as Reading’s top goalscorer with his ninth of the campaign, that was in the 48th minute of the game; however, two minutes later, we drew level as Ben Marshall got his first goal for the club after being set up by Nouha Dicko.The resurgent Dicko had a chance to give us an invaluable lead and half the ground thought it was in, but unfortunately, it hit the side netting mean that we still hadn’t taken the lead in a match since our venture to Burton which was at the beginning of the previous month.
Chances were had at both ends before Paul McShane, who has one of the most punchable faces in football, headed home to give Reading the lead with only twelve minutes left. To be fair to Lambert, he did decide to use his subs this time around as he brought Bodvarsson on for Saville to give us a more attacking impetus but that all went to shit a minute later when Mike Williamson got his second yellow meaning we would play the last five minutes plus stoppage time with ten men, but we still had a sub left. You’d just go for it, wouldn’t you? Not Lambert. He decided to bring Doherty on for Coady in the 93rd minute in what must only be a time-wasting exercise despite we were losing because Doherty isn’t an impact player. Now one point from the relegation zone…
Portman Road was the venue for our next game as we travelled to Suffolk to face Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich who we were never going to beat because we never do and I’ve come to the conclusion that McCarthy performed some sort of witchcraft when he left Molineux. This was only three days after the Reading game meaning that, much like the Wigan game the month before, it gave us the perfect chance to right a few wrongs. Well, it would have done but Lambert decided to leave Costa, Cavaleiro and Dicko on the bench at the start of the game as he opted Marshall, Weimann and Bodvarsson in a move that had me trying to find an extension lead that would stretch to the bathroom so I could plug the toaster in.
It will come as no surprise that with that dire front three that we failed to have a shot on target, albeit, we did hit the woodwork twice at the back end of the match, but funnily enough, that was only after the introduction of Helder Costa. Another game with Mick McCarthy, another 0-0 draw. At least we stopped losing, mind. Still one point off the relegation zone, luckily we have a couple of games in hand. Next up, we face Rotherham at home and they were nineteen points from safety, surely we must win, surely?
The ‘Millers’ should have been 2-0 up in the first half as the players took it upon themselves to try and make it as difficult as possible for them as they were gifting Rotherham chances left, right and centre; if we were playing anyone but Rotherham, you’d think that they would’ve converted one, if not both. Just before the break, there was a chance. Maybe it will be ok after all. Penalty. Lambert had decided to start the talismanic Costa as well and thankfully it was him stepping up to take the spot-kick ten minutes before halftime. He’s hit it, it’s on target! Saved. Oh, fuck off. It was a poor penalty by all accounts, but even still, Costa is the brightest light we have this season and if he can’t do it, then should we really consign ourselves to relegation?
Maybe there was hope as before the whistle was blown for the interval, Andi Weimann chased after what many would call a lost cause, got the ball, rounded the keeper and put us 1-0 up. There was no great celebration of the goal, just an enormous sense of relief. At the end of the second half Wolves got booed off so you would think we would have dropped points in the end or maybe even lost, but we didn’t, we held on to win 1-0 but that gives you some idea on the distaste towards Paul Lambert. If we had failed to win that, I think he would have been sacked, shame. Still, only one point above the relegation zone and we now had one of our games in hand.
Griffin Park is a decent little stadium with a pub on each corner of the ground, a terrace behind the goal and is a proper ground as opposed to the likes of the Madejski which we visited earlier in the month. Brentford didn’t really have anything to play for because they weren’t in any danger of getting dragged into the relegation scrap and they were too far adrift of the playoff places to make a late challenge for those. Yet, with ten minutes left, Brentford were 1-0 up and it looked like our first of two games in hand was going to end in defeat.
The thing that made this game different to the others is that we were actually playing quite well and creating chances and with five minutes left we had that front three I was referring to earlier, of Costa, Cavaleiro and Dicko on the pitch; I remember listening to this on the radio at the time and we were battering them and forgetting everything, I thought we were going to win, we were playing too well not to. Decided to load up SkyBet and if my memory serves correctly we were about 100/1 to win, so I just chucked a quid on thinking nothing of it. A minute later, Matt Doherty drew us level and that was after we had hit the bar and had a shot cleared off the line, as well, but from now on, there was only ever going to be one winner as we kept attacking as opposed to going into our shells and playing for the draw. Funnily enough, it was the Cavaleiro and Costa combination which gave us all three points as Cav sent in the ball and Costa volleyed home to send the Wolves fans behind the goal delirious. I’ll be honest, I was slightly disappointed there wasn’t a pitch invasion, ah well, you can’t win them all. Four points and four places above the relegation zone now, never in doubt, was it?
Presumably, the team would have stayed in London as four days later, we entertained a Fulham side who very much had the playoffs in their sight. I can’t believe I am writing this, but we performed the perfect smash n grab in what was the last game of the month; we only had 30% of the ball, yet we walked away from Craven Cottage with three goals and three points as we were suddenly showing form of Champions, let alone relegation candidates. That combination of Cav & Costa were at it again, this time it was Costa who was setting up Cavaleiro who put us one up with just over ten minutes left on the clock in the first half; Weimann doubled our lead just after the break.
Fulham made it a contest once more when Denis Odoi halved the deficit just seven minutes after Weimann had made it 2-0 and at that point there was still thirty-six minutes left so naturally, Wolves fans, on the whole, were gnawing their fingernails as we awaited a Fulham equaliser which wouldn’t have looked too out of place, especially considering the amount of the ball they were having. However, against the run of play, Costa was the architect as he teed up Dave Edwards who made it 3-1 and that was the end of March which all things considered, didn’t end up too bad. Lambert was still a twat, though. March position: 16th | Points from playoffs: 17 | Points from relegation zone: 5 | Overall points: 45.