Following Saturday’s loss at the hands of Bolton, an air of confusion and despair looms over Molineux, leading to an ever-growing fear that Wolves may not do as well this season as the players, management and fans first believed.
But, this time last year, the feeling was very different. The summer of 2014 was a wonderful time to be a Wolves fan. The sun was shining, temperatures were soaring, and the club were back in the Championship, and one of the favourites to gain promotion.
After the arrivals of Rajiv van La Parra, Tommy Rowe and George Saville, Kenny Jackett set his sights on a second promotion in as many years in order to take the club back into the Premier League.
The season started superbly, too. Wolves won four of their first five league games, and a Southampton-like double promotion seemed to be on the cards, as the slick, pacey, counter-attacking style that Jackett introduced back in 2013 tore teams apart, thanks to the killer instinct of Sako, Dicko, Henry and co. And then we reached a very cold and bitter winter.
A run of five consecutive losses began on the first weekend of November. Coincidentally, the club’s terrible form coincided with Nouha Dicko’s lay-off due to injury. Will he prove to be as much of a loss this time around? I certainly think so. The loss of such a hard-working, quick and honest striker, despite the stronger attacking options available to Jackett this time around, is unquantifiable but certainly very evident.
It was a difficult month for the club. Only one goal was scored during November (it was a cross from James Henry that evaded everybody and found itself in the back of the net against Ipswich) and a whopping 16 goals were shipped in the space of four weeks.
Even after the acquisitions of the mercurial Benik Afobe and the experienced Tomasz Kuszczak, Wolves never recovered. The club only lost three times in the final 15 games, but still missed out on the play-offs on goal difference, by four goals.
Still, 78 points, as a result of 22 wins, wasn’t a bad return for a newly-promoted side, was it? It was the largest total not to make the play-offs since the system was introduced way back in 1987, but that was little consolation for the Old Gold faithful.
At the time, I didn’t wish to sound like a Liverpool fan, but I can remember saying: ‘Next year will be our year’. Dad laughed at me.
“What we have to do is create an environment that’s strong enough and moving in the right direction so they want to finish the job, and the job isn’t finished”, said Jez Moxey, following the club’s last game of the season, a thrilling victory against Millwall. Clearly, along with the majority of fans, Moxey had a real belief that the club was unlucky to miss out on promotion to the Premier League, but the 2015-16 season was bound to be a successful one.
Is the club moving in the right direction? Well on the evidence of the Bolton loss, it would appear not. I cannot help but feel that the foundations last season’s success was built on have been ripped apart.
It is my belief that a successful team is based around partnerships all over the pitch. Danny Batth’s leadership and hunger complimented the pace and aerial ability of double Player of the Year Richard Stearman at the heart of the defence perfectly. In the centre of the midfield, Jack Price’s disciplined positioning and ability to play simple, yet effective, football allowed Kevin McDonald to express himself further forward.
And, Benik Afobe’s late arrival proved to complement the incredible understanding that Nouha Dicko and Bakary Sako had formed almost a year previous. The trio scored 43 goals between them in all competitions during the season.
But, as Sunderland seem to find out the hard way every season, lots of changes in a short period of time usually have a detrimental effect on a team’s performance.
Bakary Sako and Tomasz Kuszczak both left the club during the summer following the expiry of their contracts, as did club captain Sam Ricketts and veteran Kevin Doyle. Richard Stearman also left, with Jackett justifying his departure as being necessary as a result of ‘football reasons’.
It was Stearman’s departure that proved the most baffling. He was integral to the club last season, and was evidently surprised that the club’s hierarchy decided to accept Fulham’s offer for him, as he took to Twitter to thanks the Molineux faithful. After all, he did win the Fans’ Player of the Season award!
Nouha Dicko will remain sidelined for the rest of the season, and although he managed 60 minutes for the Under-21 side at the weekend, Danny Batth is still a long way from full match fitness.
With Carl Ikeme and Emi Martinez both struggling to nail down the goalkeeper position, and Kevin McDonald being left out of the squad at the Macron completely, a lack of continuity from last season may be cited as the reason for the club’s clear drop in form.
Is Kenny Jackett the man to turn it around? I think so, but only time will tell.