Wolves responded brilliantly after an inconsistent last ten games which culminated in a gut wrenching last minute defeat to Gillingham. Goals from Edwards and Evans saw off Preston and buried the ‘not beaten a top six team’ hatchet for good.
It looked like Wolves were in for a tough afternoon but defended stoutly as Preston looked to get in behind their oppositions back line. Batth and Stearman were just two of the standout performers in a convincing win against a good Preston side. Despite the pressure from Simon Grayson’s side, Wolves started well, Michael Jacobs picked out Sam Ricketts on the right, his cross met Leigh Griffiths but the header went over.
Soon after, Dave Edwards was the unlikely recipient of a through ball, he beat the offside trap, dinked the ball over Rudd but the ball was cleared off the line much to the frustration of the home crowd who were seeing chances being squandered.
Jackett made three changes from the loss to Gillingham the previous week, Stearman, Evans and Griffiths replacing Elokobi, Sako and Doyle in Jackett’s now usual 4-5-1 formation. Simon Grayson named an unchanged team after the win against Port Vale, Garner and King playing up top as a pair with new signing Kilkenny in midfield, providing the creative spark.
Preston had a goal disallowed on twenty five minutes, Ian Hume slid in the back post to tap home but was adjudged to be a few yards offside, causing hysteria in the south bank as the home fans watched their opponents realise the goal had not been given.
Wolves then rubbed salt into the wound, but not before some controversy came their way.
Leigh Griffiths found he was appealing for a penalty after being bundled off the ball in the eighteen yard box. Griffiths was still remonstrating with the referee when Danny Batth played the ball into James Henry whose one touch pass found Kevin Macdonald, the in-form midfielder drove at the Preston defence, slipped the ball to Dave Edwards who picked his spot and coolly slipped the ball underneath Rudd in the Preston goal. A wonderful move equalled by the Welshman finish.
A word on Macdonald, he really has settled into this team well, his vision, strength, poise and ball retention are, at times, astounding and it was nice to see him double his assist tally to two. He is streaks ahead the best central midfielder in the League and is somewhat underrated amongst the League One fraternity.
Preston recovered well from going one down, Buchanan, the full back, pinged a shot from outside the area, which McCarey and the whole stadium thought was going out until it dipped at the last minute and hit the cross bar. Easily Preston’s best chance, whether they meant it or not. Soon after, Preston had another good opportunity to level things up, Paul Gallagher hit a low drive wide, much to the frustration of the five thousand or so away fans.
Wolves soon got back into their mojo and really started to put North End under pressure. Ricketts took on the Preston full back, beat with him ease, his ball in was cleared out to the boot of Kevin Macdonald whose low, stinging volley was parried by Rudd to the feet of Henry whose rebound was blocked, not that it counted for anything as the winger was adjudged to be offside when Macdonald hit his volley. Minutes later, Evans was put in one on one, drove left of Rudd but the ball was cleared before he could shoot.
When Wolves weren’t on the front foot, their pressing off the ball was superb, the way Henry and Jacobs would double up on Preston’s wingers and force them to give them the ball back was admired by everyone in the ground. Golbourne and Ricketts showed great mental awareness at times to track the long runs made by Clarke and Buchanan. It was a great defensive display by the defence. They showed to everyone why this defence is statistically the best in the league, combining strength and physicality with mental sharpness and ball retention under pressure.
The second half resumed and so did the pressure from the rampant home side. Wolves, on the counter, were deadly, Henry laid the ball off to Griffiths whose shoot was rather poorly executed. Macdonald’s long range shot was hit wide. Whilst Wolves were attacking well they were not quick enough when they had possession of the ball. The passes and movement needed to be quicker, Wolves, at times, gave Preston chances to get back and recover, Wolves missed a trick in not using Jacobs’ pace to penetrate the Preston backline, his directness and purpose with the ball is frightening at times.
The pattern this season has been that Wolves have failed to press home an advantage in the second half, all too often the men in Old Gold would sit back, protect a lead and soak up pressure rather than just repeating what got them the goal in the first place. Yesterday that mould was broken, Wolves doubled their lead and killed the game off as a contest.
It resulted in them pressing the Preston team in possession, the ball was won back by the excellent Lee Evans, Leigh Griffiths picked the ball up. He then turned and played James Henry in on the right hand side, he hit top gear, bursting through the bewildered Preston back line, his stinging shot was parried by Rudd’s right hand, sadly for him, Lee Evans was there to trickle the ball over the line, the reinstated midfielder was delighted to have scored, capping an almost perfect afternoon for the young man. Suddenly, Wolves’ midfield options are rich and deep, with David Davis on the bench and Jack Price recovering from injury, Wolves arguably have the best midfield unit in the league.
The game soon petered out, not before Griffiths fired way wide after doing exceptionally well to win the ball back. Simon Grayson made a double change to try and ask some new questions of their opponents, Davis and Wiseman replaced Holmes and Hume with half an hour to go.
Jackett made his own changes soon after, David Davis came on for Dave Edwards, the young defender being the ‘third lung’ of the three man midfield as Jackett looked to sit deep and see the game out.
Preston were then awarded a free kick but failed to trouble McCarey in the Wolves goal. Soon after, Jackett made another change, Leigh Griffiths saw his number come up and Liam McAlinden was to replace him. A ten minute raft of changes ended when Grayson brought Brownhill on for Welsh.
Liam McAlinden’s impact was instant as he connected with a James Henry cross after the new signing did well to accelerate from his own half to the Preston box. Despite the score line and the amount of time left on the clock, Preston still continued to create chances. Gallagher’s curled effort was parried away by McCarey who looked extremely confident throughout the game. McAlinden displayed some of his potent attacking prowess, when he excelled past the centre half, King, cut inside and hit a low shot that was clumsily saved by Rudd in the Preston goal.
McAlinden made such an instant impact when he was introduced, in those twenty minutes he staked a very solid claim to be the starting striker, he was streaks ahead of Griffiths. McAlinden looked like he had it all, he has great pace, awareness, agility and strength despite his slight frame, he offers everything that Cassidy offers but with a razor sharp edge to his game. I for one would love to see him in a one on one situation with a keeper, he’s got that lethal streak about him.
The final whistle was blown and the fans celebrated a brilliant win against a top six side. The clocks have been reset and Wolves can put that ‘bad’ run behind them and focus on a top two assault, it’s going to be difficult, Leyton Orient and Brentford never look like losing. The imminent arrival of Nouha Dicko will provide more fire power upfront, this doesn’t diminish the need for a big powerful centre forward that can batter his way through defences.
So, a good week was made even better come 5pm yesterday afternoon, the permanent signatures of Henry and Jacobs, all for less than what we sold Karl Henry for seems like some of the best business Wolves have done since the arrivals of Jarvis and Kightly. The result against Gillingham must now be put to bed and we should look forward to picking up at least seven points against Crawley, Bristol and Oldham.
Hey, Leyton Orient and Brentford, the Wolves are a coming…