Back in August, the Guardian’s Jacob Steinberg made a bold prediction. He suggested, along with Derby County, Middlesborough and Hull City, that Wolves would be title contenders for the 2015-16 Championship season.
It seems very hard to believe now, but at the time this prediction seemed fairly realistic. FourFourTwo magazine even believed that Wolves would finish top of the table come May in their annual season predictions. Both Steinberg and FourFourTwo thought that this would be Wolves’ year because of the pace that Kenny Jackett had at his disposal in attacking areas, whilst Richard Stearman was in superb form in defence during the 2014-15 season. It was all looking well and good.
Despite heavy investment from promotion rivals Derby and Middlesborough, Wolves fans were buoyant back in the summer. That was until the back end of August. The heavy optimism didn’t even last a month. Nouha Dicko suffered a horrendous injury to his anterior cruciate ligament against Charlton, before Richard Stearman was sold to Fulham for ‘football reasons’, something the fans have still not come to terms with.
A serious injury to a star player is largely unpreventable, but whilst Benik Afobe was still at the club there didn’t seem to be a forward crisis – after all, Bright Enobakhare looked promising in pre-season and Adam Le Fondre had scored freely for his former clubs…
This time last year, Wolves were gearing up for a trip away to Nottingham Forest after the international break. It finished 2-1 – Benik Afobe netted a superb solo effort and Bakary Sako scored a penalty.
But the Wolves side that day is a stark contrast to what is left now in the present day. Dicko, Afobe, Sako (it’s magic, you know) and James Henry terrorised defences as a front four on the counter attack. Jackett’s men lost only two of their last ten league games, and found themselves back in play-off contention after a slump just before Christmas in 2014.
So obviously, the good form was to continue into the next season, surely?
Well it’d appear not, Wolves registered only six wins in the first 22 games of the season. Despite four consecutive wins at the turn of the year, the Old Gold have won only two of their last 11 games – Jackett’s side are languishing in 12th with only nine games to go.
Maybe that’s because Henry and Dicko have suffered injuries, whilst Stearman, Sako and Dicko have all moved on to pastures new.
It is fair to say that Le Fondre’s loan move hasn’t worked as well as Kenny Jackett would have hoped, once again showing the questionable nature of the club’s transfer policy over the past season. I’d argue that, despite George Saville and Conor Coady’s good form of late, Afobe was the only of Wolves’ arrivals since promotion back to the Championship that proved consistently successful.
But even by Wolves’ standards of late, selling the Players’ Player and Fans’ Player of the Season without an instant replacement lined up was daft. Really daft. Stearman’s ability on the pitch was clear for all to see, but the intangible benefit of his experience after playing regularly for the club in the Premier League down to League One with 211 appearances in a Wolves shirt (particularly after the departures of Tomasz Kuzsczak, Sam Ricketts and Kevin Doyle) has been apparent, this current side lack effective leadership.
After openly stating to the national press that none of Wolves’ star players would be sold during the course of this season, Jez Moxey has been made to look a fool – especially given the untimely sale of Afobe to Bournemouth.
Sure, most of the blame can, and should, be put on the club’s hierarchy. But, Jackett has not been helped by a series of serious injuries to important players. Striker Dicko, wingers Razak Boukari and Jordan Graham and defender Ethan Ebanks-Landell are all out for the season, while Mike Williamson, Henry and midfielder Dave Edwards are also currently absent.
So all in all, it is safe to say that this season has not turned out to be the success story that Wolves fans, me included, dreamed of.
And just for the record, Jacob Steinberg predicted that Brighton would be fighting against relegation this season…