This year’s Christmas fixtures have reaped much richer pickings for the old gold.
The Christmas period is never a happy time, on the pitch at least, for Wolves fans. The past three years have seen Wolves pick up just twelve points from a possible thirty six at Christmas, a woeful record I am sure you will agree. The despair and depression at Christmas hit new ebb when Solbakken’s Wolves failed to beat both Peterborough and Ipswich at home.
Like most of this season though, there was a fresh opportunity to put those Christmas demons to bed with a win against a poor Crewe side. Jackett named a very team after the emphatic three-three draw at Rotherham. Out went Bjorn Sigurdarson, Bakary Sako and Kevin Doyle and in their place came Kevin Macdonald, Michael Jacobs and Jake Cassidy. Jackett tweaked the system to a 4-2-3-1, with Cassidy as the target man, Jacobs, Edwards and Henry in behind with Macdonald and Price at the base of the midfield.
One time contender for the Wolves job, Steve Davis, named all but one of the team that drew to Shrewsbury, Adam Dugdale was replaced by Mark Ellis. The back four of Tootle, Mellor, Davis and Ellis was tasked with keeping Cassidy and co. at bay. Fortunately for the home side the Crewe defence weren’t alert to Jacobs’ penetrative run into the box to meet Golbourne’s deft cross, after doing well to get to the by-line. The Derby man rose well and hung in the air to nod home the opening goal after only two minutes.
The perfect start for the home side, first chance, first goal.
The flood gates were expected to open against the team second bottom with the worst defence in the league. As expected though Wolves spurned chance after chance, their control of the game being threatened just once or twice in the first half. After a Crewe chance where NaBangna attacked Davis’ free kick, but failed to really test Ikeme in the Wolves goal, Edwards squandered a chance after another excellent cross from Scott Golbourne. Garratt was soon on hand to grab hold of James Henry’s cross after he nutmegged a bewildered a Byron Moore. Minutes later Henry whipped yet another pinpoint ball in, frustratingly Garratt read the flight of the ball and claimed the cross.
Wolves were pressing home their advantage well, creating chances and asking questions of Crewe. The lack of a striker who can finish was what was missing. Cassidy, for all his hard work on the ground and in the air wasn’t able to tuck home a half chance, he isn’t a poacher by any means, he is a target man who currently, seems quite a one dimensional player. Cassidy doesn’t offer the poacher like ability that Griffiths has or the intelligence and awareness that makes McAlinden a more appropriate replacement.
Golbourne despatched an elegant cross field ball which fell to the feet of Dave Edwards, his deep cross was cleared away and Wolves squandered yet another chance in front of a frustrated North Bank. The North Bank then had to duck their heads to stop themselves from being taken out by Jack Price’s wild shot which was sailing high and wide. Crewe then registered a first shot on target, the on loan Arsenal man, Chuks Aneke directed his bullet header towards an equaliser only to be halted by Ikeme who reacted superbly to stop the Alex from bringing proceedings back onto level terms.
With half time around the corner Wolves had a golden opportunity to put the game to bed. A Jack Price cross found the feet of Danny Batth who smashed his shot at the bottom of the post, celebrations were stunted as heads went into hands. Everyone in the ground had thought the lad from Brierley Hill had put Wolves two-nil ahead. Henry then smashed the rebound wide. It was end-to-end stuff at the golden palace with half time fast approaching. Aneke had a lot shot parried away poorly by Ikeme, Byron Moore was quickest to the rebound but his finish was high and wide, a huge let off for Wolves.
With half time over, Crewe started with a renewed vigour, Hitchcock was slipped in to the eighteen yard box, he failed to latch on to the pass and his tame shot was saved by Ikeme. Wolves then suffered a blow when the influencial Scott Golbourne had to go off, with what we now know is a dead leg, after having a good game it was disappointing to see the full back have to go off. Having him in the side offers Wolves essential width from a deeper position. With Henry and Jacobs cutting inside and constantly interchanging, Golbourne offers us a constant wide outlet when attacking. On came Ethan Ebanks-Landell who had an excellent thirty five minutes despite the pressures of the game, he looked confident and assured in the right back position.
Within a minute or so of his introduction, Ebanks-Landell almost scored, in the penalty area, Landell lofted the ball over the Crewe ‘keeper. Despite having ‘Ebanks’ in his name, the precocious young full back failed to score, much to the dismay of himself and the groaning south bank. Jackett introduced the mercurial Leigh Griffiths on fifty nine minutes to get that killer second goal. The Scot made an instant impact almost netting his thirteenth of season, Cassidy played the ball out to Henry who dinked the ball over the head of Garratt who scrambled back to claw away Griffiths’ shot from a yard out.
Danny Batth had the ball in the net after body checking the Crewe centre half, the referee spotted this and disallowed the goal. Wolves had two more chances before the game was up. Ebanks-Landell did excellently to chase down Matt Tootle into his own half and force a corner. The resulting cross caused a scramble in the box which failed to produce a goal.
Wolves’ number nine then settled the game with a minute to go. Henry running through the centre of the Crewe midfield, found Leigh Griffiths who held his run, picked the ball up, cut onto to his left and dispatched a laser like shot into the bottom corner past Garratt.
Another three points picked up as the promotion machine continues to roll on. The gamble to rest Sako, Doyle and to a lesser extent, Griffiths will be key for the game on Sunday. An important, but not season defining game, on Sunday will be Wolves’ greatest test to date. Not beating a top six side this season makes for grim reading, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see that we have only played Brentford at home, the rest of the top six games were away. At home, Wolves will have to take the initiative and go at Leyton Orient, whilst all the time being wary of the pace of Cox and Odubajo on the break.
The prize of a first placed finish at the end of 2014 will await the victor. Quite symbolic for Wolves considering the abysmal and turbulent year we have had, from bottom of the Championship to top of League One in three hundred and sixty five days does show progress.
The hard works only just begun.