Joe Mason signed for Wolves from Championship rivals Cardiff City at the end of the January transfer window for an undisclosed fee rumoured to be around £3 million.
The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international scored 22 goals in 60 league starts for the Bluebirds, and an average of around a goal every three games is a healthy return for a player often utilised in the role just behind a striker, which has added defensive responsibilities.
‘We’ve looked at him for a while, and particularly back in August, but the deal couldn’t get done’, said Head Coach Kenny Jackett after Mason’s arrival at Molineux was confirmed. With the long-term injuries to Nouha Dicko, Michal Zyro, Jordan Graham and Dave Edwards, plus the sale of Benik Afobe for £10 million to Bournemouth, Mason was welcomed with open arms by the Wolves’ faithful.
At the same time as Mason, Mike Williamson returned to the West Midlands for his second spell at the club. After a successful, albeit short, stint at the heart of the Wolves defence towards the end of 2015, fans seemed to have been rewarded for their patience, and considerable impatience, during the transfer window.
With Williamson partnering club captain Danny Batth in the centre of the Wolves defence, the team kept three clean sheets in five games, including a superb result on the towering defender’s debut against Birmingham City, a 2-0 win in front of the Sky cameras. Upon his return from a slight hamstring injury, I sincerely hope that Williamson replaces Ethan Ebanks-Landell in the Wolves backline.
But whereas the former Newcastle man’s position and role in the squad is almost certain, the same cannot be said for Joe Mason. Speaking on Friday, Jackett claimed that Mason could play in any one of three positions effectively. On the wing, behind the striker or as a ‘Number 9′.
With his electrifying pace, good finishing, tireless running and willingness to beat his marker, Jackett is correct in saying that Mason is extremely versatile. But, after he remained an unused substitute against Reading, and came off the bench on Saturday against Preston North End, does Jackett know his favoured and best position?
It’s the stuff of Sunday League football. Signing a player in a rush before a big weekend match, not really knowing where he plays, and just throwing him on in the hope that he can change the game, and although he scored on Saturday, the change had little effect. We’ve all been there. But this is the Championship, where fine details can make or break a club’s season. In Wolves’ last campaign the club missed out on the play-offs on goal difference, so Jackett should know this only too well.
During the 0-0 stalemate against Reading, Nathan Byrne was the only player used from the substitutes’ bench. On Saturday, with Wolves 2-1 down and Preston beginning to look vulnerable on the counter attack, Jackett threw on defensive midfielder Tommy Rowe with five minutes left, still only playing with one striker. Adam Le Fondre was left unused yet again.
For the entirety of the Preston game, Wolves had three defensive midfielders on the pitch. With Kevin McDonald demoted to the bench, and Mason only coming on at half-time, Conor Coady was used in the ‘number 10 role’, just behind the striker, and Jack Price played in his usual position.
Comically, after James Henry’s first half injury, George Saville spent most of the match on the left wing. With his inability to beat his marker for pace, or to run in behind the Preston backline, Wolves did not threaten the opposition for most of the 90 minutes.
My question is, would the club have been better off investing in a true, out and out, leading striker instead of Mason? Tom Bradshaw, Nahki Wells, Jason Cummings and Conor Washington all spring to mind. If reports that Italian striker Robert Aquafresca rejected Wolves on Deadline Day are true, the club may have missed a trick.
Jackett seems to have a mistrust in Adam Le Fondre, while Bjorn Sigurdarson has been unable to influence a game thus far after his return. Despite his clear ability and willingness to work hard for the team, the singing of Joe Mason will have little effect on Wolves’ season without the addition of another striker, in my opinion.