It’s amazing what one result can do for a football fan’s outlook on life. I started penning a piece for WAGU! just before Christmas, which would have been one of those really annoying articles about how a team at the top of league (well, Wolves were second at the time) should be doing better. In the next five games, we won just one and have slipped out of the promotion places, behind Brentford and Leyton Orient. But, sometimes a 90-minute performance can resurrect not only a team, but also the support for that team.
Finally, it appears that boss Kenny Jackett has found a group of players and a system that suits this squad. In January an excellent 2-0 win over Preston was the follow-up to a meek surrender in Gillingham, live on Sky the previous week. The starting lineup for last weeks victory over 10-man Bradford City was unrecognisable in comparison to the team that so meekly surrendered it’s Championship place. Of Dean Saunders’ last three Wolves starting XIs, only a handful are even close to being in contention for Saturday’s trip to Stevenage. Almost bizarrely, one of the players with the most chance will be Nouha Dicko, signed permanently from Wigan Athletic this week (he played a handful of games on loan last season).
Of those 15 players, five remain at the club; five are out on loan*; two returned to their parent clubs; one was sold and two left due to the end of their contract. Joining Dicko at the Compton training ground is Bakary Sako, surprisingly unsold in January, along with Jamie O’Hara (40 minutes in a Wolves shirt this season), Matt Doherty (injured since November) and George Elokobi (one league start this season). Elokobi is clearly unwanted (and many Wolves fans have long believed that even this level is too high for a player of his limited ability), while O’Hara is frozen out
In fact, there are only five outfield players who are anywhere near our current first team who had played for the club more than fifteen times before the start of this season: Sako, Richard Stearman, David Davis and David Edwards are four of them. Bizarrely, the last is actually Leon Clarke, signed a week ago, but is actually our fifth most experience player, in terms of Wolves appearances. Of those five, Sako has been at the club for 18 months, Clarke has a gap of seven years between his 83rd and 84th appearances, and Davis in the first team squad for just under two years. Kenny Jackett has overseen a huge upheaval of the playing staff, and it is small wonder that the squad is only just starting to gel.
The win against Preston was the first time that we have played well for 90 minutes. Previous good performances have generally lasted for only 45-minutes before going pear-shaped, the Christmas period top-of-the-table clash with Leyton Orient being a perfect example – we were excellent for 45-minutes before an enforced change and an improvement from Orient saw a 1-1 draw. But, with Jackett’s signings bedding in, the signs are there for an improved second half of the season.
And Jackett’s signings have been good. In fact they’ve been better than good. Of Jackett’s eight permanent signings, there are question marks over only two of them. And they only signed in January. Every other signing is getting better and better. It’s difficult to judge given that three of the last five seasons have been spent in the Premier League, but most of Jackett’s signings seem to be the best we’ve made in a long time. He has finally plugged the left back and right wing positions that have plagued the club for longer than I care to remember with the consistency of Scott Golbourne and trickery of James Henry respectively, while Kevin McDonald is absolutely exquisite in the middle of the park. Add to this Sam Ricketts who is our best defender whether on the left, right or in the center and the exciting Michael Jacobs, and Jackett has replaced the nucleus of the team (many of whom have extensive Premier League experience) with better players.
Arguably the final position he needed to recruit was upfront. And he has definitely change that around – in the final days of the transfer window, out went the £6m Kevin Doyle, £2.4m Björn Sigurðarson and leading scorer Leigh Griffiths. This had been the position Jackett had the most trouble with. Griffiths scored a goal for every 147 minutes on the pitch, but didn’t contribute a huge amount elsewhere. Doyle had obvious quality, but a goal return of 3 in 23 wasn’t enough, while Sigurðarson never really got a run in his favoured position. If Nouha Dicko and Leon Clarke prove to be the forwards who manage to combine goals with all-round play, Wolves fans should have a lot to look forward to between now and May.
*Wolves are a League 1 club with nine players out on loan. Of those, one has taken four points from Juventus in the Champions League group stage, one is in the League Cup semi-finals, another has 23 starts for a team in the Championship play-offs, one is playing in the Norwegian top flight and a further two are at French top-flight clubs. Wolves are a League 1 club.
Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger
Tom tweets at @toomb306