It’s been a while since my last piece on here, developing a five point plan for Ståle Solbakken at Wolves. And guess how many of those points he took on board? Not a single one of them. Now I reckon he ignored my plans for one of three reasons. Firstly, I don’t know what I’m talking about. This one is perhaps fair enough. The second reason is that he doesn’t actually read this website, but we know that’s not true. Anyone who’s anyone reads WAGU! on a regular basis, and I can see you there nodding your head in agreement. The third possible reason for him ignoring my advice was that he was sacked six days later. In hindsight, that is probably the primary reason.
Since my last blog on here, at the turn of New Year, Wolves have played 12 games of football (eleven in the league, one in the FA Cup). Guess how many of those we’ve won? Well done, the answer is one. One bloody match in twelve; a grand total of eight points from the 33 on offer in that period. That is relegation form. Add that to the three wins in fifteen at the back end of 2012, it’s no surprise to see Wolves firmly ensconced in the bottom three of the Championship, fighting our fourth relegation battle in four seasons.
Yet, we have a new manager, former Welsh international and Liverpool and Aston Villa signing Dean Saunders, poached from Doncaster Rovers, who incidentally, he took down last season. Since Saunders has been appointed, his record reads played eleven, won one, drawn five, lost five. Our honeymoon period under Saunders was over before the vows had been exchanged (by the way, this is the second successive season in which we’ve changed managers during the winter months. The replacement managers have taken twelve points from 24 games, losing over half of them. God bless Terry Connor).
I have always maintained that sacking a manager is an amalgamation of two very different decisions – the decision to release the current manager from his contract, and then the decision to employ a new one. If you get the second decision wrong, it makes no difference if you were right to make the first decision. And so far, the jury is definitely out on that second decision. At a recent Fans’ Parliament meeting (effectively a meeting of the management team of the club and a selection of around 40 fan representatives), club owner Steve Morgan admitted that Dean Saunders had been the only man on his shortlist.
Yes, you read that right; so convinced that Steve Morgan was that Saunders was the right man for the job, he didn’t even stop to consider anyone else (Sean O’Driscoll was the fans’ choice – a Wolves fan as a boy, who had done solid jobs at all of his prior clubs and is doing so again at Bristol City. But more on them later…). This came on the basis of a recommendation from Wrexham’s owner, and Saunders former employer. And then strangely, Doncaster’s owner also backed up this reference, despite apparently not wanting Saunders to leave. But, unsurprisingly, we got our man.
And has he made a difference? Well, perhaps initial signs were promising, with the odd good 20 minutes of football here and there, but never enough to actually buy a win. There was a definite change in style, gone are the slow build-ups of the Solbakken era – when even your silky skilled left winger hoofs it long at every opportunity, you know there has been a change of regime. In fact, perhaps Saunders has even read my recommendations in that earlier blog. We’ve signed a left back, the youngster Jack Robinson on loan from Liverpool while Kaspars Gorkšs has arrived on loan from Reading and youngster Matt Doherty appears to have made the right back spot his own; Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Doyle are no longer our automatic pairing upfront, with Jake Cassidy recalled from his loan spell at Tranmere Rovers and Björn Sigurðarson gaining a modicum of fitness; and for one game, Tongo Doumbia was given the freedom to roam forward. But, they didn’t work, so maybe I was right in the opening paragraph; I don’t know what I’m talking about…
But, despite my best laid plans, things have not taken a turn for the better. On Saturday, Wolves are facing bottom of the table Bristol City, in what is a classic relegation six pointer. Earlier in the season, we beat them 4-1 at Ashton Gate, in what can only be described as a ‘comfortable’ victory (in fact, it’s the only time we’ve won a league game by more than two goals since beating Blackpool 4-0 more than two years ago). Yet, we are going into it with a feeling of trepidation – surely every Wolves fan will look at the two dugouts and wonder ‘what might have been’. A loss and we are rock bottom in the league going into the Easter period. Surely a team full of players who have spent the previous three seasons in the Premier League should not be able to find themselves in this situation. Nothing less than a win will be good enough; a tall order considering the Molineux crowd have seen just four home league victories in over 15 months.
There is currently a sign outside Molineux saying ‘tough times don’t last; tough people do’. It’s about time the players bought into this message, and there is no better place to start than at home to bottom of the league.
Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger & also writes for The Football Network
Tom tweets at @toomb306