2012-13 will be our 10th consecutive season in the Championship. The season has barely begun and already our indifferent form has undermined raised expectations. So far, so disappointing, so ruddy typical.
There are indications however that the pattern of false hope followed by crushing but somehow inevitable disappointment might be about to change. Witness the approach to the transfer window. Traditionally as September beckons we have grown used to the inevitability of the club cashing in its most valuable assets in order to appease the banks, the Luxuriantly Eyebrowed One and other less than sympathetic creditors. The gaps in the painstakingly constructed jigsaw were replaced by ill-fitting loanees as a frustrated manager desperately picked through the Premier League detritus in a hopeless search for a few missing pieces. They rarely fitted but Dave Jones was forced to shove them in anyway and the completed picture rarely convinced.
This year’s window opened up not to the cruel winds of change but to the sweet smell of success wafting tantalisingly through the crack towards our expectant upturned nostrils. Not only have we retained our crown jewels we have bagged a few cut-price cut-glass gems lest our more precious stones should fail to radiate with the expected splendour. At last we have a squad with quality cover in just about every position. Apart from defence.
But we are so well-blessed in the middle of the park with, at the last count, 13 midfielders in the squad that Malky’s tried and distrusted default 4-5-1 formation may well be adjusted to accommodate all his assorted playmakers, controllers and creatives. Perhaps he’ll play Marshall as a goalie-when / goalie-rush, just behind a defensive midfield with Whittingham forming a link with central midfield and Mason playing in the hole just ahead of a forward midfield and lone striker in a 1-9-1 formation. That will allow room on the bench for another 4 midfielders to stir the crowd from their slumbers up later on…
And so yesterday we welcome back our old friends from Wolverhampton who have been doing more yo-yo-ing than Wandering in the last few years, occasionally threatening to re-establish themselves as a Premier League outfit before gently parachuting back down to the Championship to regroup and try again. With 30 million notes to break their fall it shouldn’t take them too long to find their feet.
We were exhorted by announcer Ali to welcome our red-shirted strangers, variously introduced as ‘making his full debut’ or ‘making his home debut’ and wondered how long it would take them to remember each other’s names and translate Cockney to Korean, Slovakian to Scouse let alone contemplate the required telepathic understanding between players.
The Huddersfield opener was a worry as relatively few new players were bedded into an established unit and played like strangers. So how would this starting eleven, who in every area of the pitch were strangers cope? Within minutes all our fears disipated as we played flowing, controlled exciting football, every inch the cohesive unit that we had no right to expect. Wolves were also at the top of their game which led to a frenetic opening 15 minutes. They took the lead on 10 minutes as a poorly positioned wall allowed Sako to place a free kick 20 yards beyond Marshall. A soft goal and an early blow from which it would be vital to bounce back as soon as possible. Within the minute preferably.
Noone and Whittingham duly obliged, the former’s turn of pace in the box causing Zubar to upend him and the latter striking the resulting penalty straight up the middle. 1-1.
Just three minutes later a slick City counter-attack sent the Wolves defence in all directions, opening up an opportunity for an unmarked Whitts to strike a low screamer past the despairing Ikeme. 2-1. At this point you expected every move to end with a goal and although it was to be some time before the net was to bulge again, the quality of the entertainment on display from both teams meant that this was one of the most entertaining halves in recent times and something at last worthy of the live Asian TV broadcast. Noone in particular was having a cracking debut, turning and twisting a panicked Wolves defence all ways and providing the wide options that we missed all last season and which we expected the absent Bellamy to provide this year. On this evidence Bellers will struggle to command a regular start.
The second half was fairly even but just as Wolves were gaining the upper hand up stepped Whitts again with a trademark dipping angled free kick from 25 yards, up and over the defensive wall perfectly placed beyond the keeper into the top corner. Peter Whittingham 3, Wolves 1. Not for the mild-mannered Whittingham some idiotic histrionic pumped-up celebration. No, a bashful grin, a raised hand and a saunter back for the restart that said ‘Just doing my job, mate’. What a guy!
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Wolves and although they had plenty of possession they didn’t create anything and didn’t threaten the City goal again. Malky made a number of substitutions bringing on Mason, Cowie and Gunnarsson aimed at preserving the lead rather than extending it. This meant that disappointingly there was to be no home debut for Kim Bo-Kyung.
Last season it was often said that we were punching above our weight and we exceeded expectations with a fairly thin squad. Many, including me were critical that we were unable to capitalise on our early success and were disappointed at Malky’s reluctance to move to a Plan B, relying on a packed but uninspiring midfield and a lone striker. And his reluctance to invest in his threadbare squad when he had the chance was perplexing. There’s every indication now that he was biding his time having tracked Noone, Maynard, Smith and others for some time, waiting for them to become available. Patience is not a virtue that sits easily with a footie fan but this season perhaps we should learn to sit ‘patiently as the spider weaves the broken web’.