Wolves looking to avoid being giant killedBy: DJ | January 3rd, 2013
After their run of 3 wins in 16 league games, Wolves enter the FA Cup on Saturday for a game that presents a welcome break from the league pressures but also the potential for one big slip on a banana skin. Non league opposition should give an opportunity for progress to the next round but a defeat would crank the pressure up a significant amount on the manager and players who are already feeling the brunt of many supporters anxiety about recent results and performances.
The match against Luton represents the first time Wolves have been drawn against Non League opposition since they played against Chorley in the 1985/86 season. After two draws that tie went to a second replay and Wolves were beaten 3-0 in a game widely regarded as the lowest point in Wolves history. That game came when Wolves were in the 4th Division and close to extinction but in the same week Wolves had signed Steve Bull from Albion and the rest, as they say, is history. The last time Wolves were drawn against Luton was in the 1959/60 season. The Hatters were in the top tier of English football and had lost in the 1959 Final against Forest. But Wolves beat Luton 3-2 at Molineux and went on to lift the Cup at Wembley against Blackburn.
The two teams have met 31 times in total with results fairly even. In the 29 league games Wolves have won 12, Luton 11 with 5 draws. The teams have met once in the League Cup which Luton won, and twice in the FA Cup with Wolves winning both times. In the Blue Square Premier League, Luton are currently 5th having been fairly inconsistent in league games in recent times. They won at home to Woking 3-1 on Boxing Day and lost by the same score to the same team away on New Years Day. They have been doing well in Cup competitions though and are still in the FA Trophy, and have progressed to the third round of the FA Cup with wins against Nuneaton and Dorchester.
Solbakken’s general decision for the game is whether to pick his strongest available team or give opportunities to some of the younger squad players who may be looking to prove they can do a job for the first team in 2013. He may be forced down the line of fielding a changed line up because there is a question mark over the fitness of all the new signings he brought in over the summer. Doumbia, Sako, Sigurdarson, Peszko, Boukari and Magreitter may all be unavailable which spells out the misfortune the manager has been having with injuries but also raises questions about how well they are coping with the pace and physicality of the English game.
There are plenty of players that would welcome the chance to prove what they can do in the first team. Keeper De Vries may get a chance, and there are players who have been out on loan but now returned like full backs Matt Doherty and Jamie Reckord and striker Jake Cassidy who has been a vital part of Tranmere’s promotion push. Centre Back Danny Batth and winger Anthony Forde are also likely to be at least in the squad. Its a dilemna for Solbakken who may like the idea of testing out some of these players but has also probably been made aware of the massive media backlash that would follow a defeat to a Non League team. Having said that, after recent performances, there are some who will feel some new young faces would increase Wolves chances of success rather than sticking with the old guard that have not been delivering.
There are two main debates captivating Wolves supporters as we start 2013. Firstly, whether its the manager or the players that are most to blame for the disappointing league position. And secondly whether the board should ‘back him or sack him’ now that Solbakken is entering his second transfer window in the job.
There is no doubt the players have not been performing well for most of the season and particularly in the last three games. Then we can debate whether that is because they aren’t good enough, or are not giving their all for the new manager. Certainly there are players in the squad who there were big question marks against last season as to whether they were good enough for the Premier League. But most if not all are surely capable of doing well at Championship level. And if viirtually any of the first team squad were sold then they would be moving on to Championship or even Premier League teams and not lower league. So the conclusion of that has to be that they should be doing better at this level. So then the question comes if they are giving their all. And many would say its one of any manager’s fundamental responsibilites to get the best out of his players regardless of whether he brought them in or they were inherited from the previous regime. All managers will initially have an inherited squad to work with and the responsibilty to get results and performances starts on day one, not when the squad has been totally replaced. Bruce and McCarthy have both made progress with squads they have inherited this season, and Zola at Watford has made radical changes to personnel and style in a similar way as Solbakken is looking to move forward, and has his team in the top 6 and playing entertaining football.
On the ‘back him or sack him’ debate, the issue becomes whether the manager has had a fair crack of the whip to take Wolves forward. He was given around £10m in the summer to bring in his own players, which is clearly a lot more than the vast majority of other managers in this division. Injuries have meant that some of those have not had the chance to show how much they would add to the cause. That certainly applies to Boukari, and Peszko has also missed a lot of the season after doing ok early season. Although the manager was allowed to bring in Premier League winger Pennant to cover that gap, again a facility not afforded to most managers in this division. Doumbia was the star player in the opening weeks that took Wolves to a play off position. But he has not played well since September. And Sako has been the star turn and been involved in most Wolves goals as a scorer or creator, but has also looked in need of a rest for a few weeks now. Sigurdarson has looked promising but Solbakken has chosen to leave him out of the team more often than he has picked him. So how much more should Solbakken be given in January to take forward his own style? He may get some money in if he decides to cash in now on Berra and Ebanks Blake who are out of contract in the summer, and Stearman has also been linked with a move. How much more than the money raised that will be given to the manager has to be questionable given the progress other clubs are making with much smaller budgets, and given that £10m is already a significant investment in the new manager’s plans for a club at this level.
What queers the pitch for the manager is that there is very little evidence on the field that any progress is being made. Wolves look no better as a defensive, creative, attacking, passing or possession team and many performances have been labelled the most boring ever seen from a Wolves team by many long term fans. His record at his previous club Koln had a similar picture to lead to the current stats of 16 wins in his last 64 games as a manager. So to retain faith in the manager supporters have to point to what he was achieving 18 months ago in Copenhagen, and to his impressive press conferences in which he sets out his plans to modernise the style of play. But although the plan sounds good, there is nothing he has done at Koln or so far at Wolves to suggest he can implement his prophecies.
Whatever the views are on the current predicament or on the best way forward, Wolves fans will be united in hoping that 2013 turns out to be a much better year than 2012 for the club. Getting past Non League opposition in the Cup needs to be the first small step forward towards some significant improvement further down the road.