A Wolves side brimming with confidence saw off a lacklustre Stevenage thanks to a tap-in from Kevin Doyle and a third goal in as many matches for James Henry.
In was the start of a vital two months for the club, and bar Wolves scoring four or five, it was the perfect afternoon for the home side. With the first sights of snow on the peaks, the days getting shorter and shorter and the introduction of the yellow ball, winter is coming. The final two months of 2013 is nothing short of season defining for Wolves, two huge games at the end of November and December, away to free scoring Peterborough at the end of the former and the visit of Leyton Orient with two days left of 2013, will shape Wolves’ season. As well as these two examinations of Wolves’ characters, they will certainly face stern tests from Milton Keynes, Brentford and Rotherham. Five games, alongside four ‘winnable’ games against Carlisle, Notts County, Tranmere and Crewe, will shape the second half of the season for the resurgent Midlands club.
If Wolves can start 2014 off the back of a successful winter period, then barring a complete collapse in form, promotion, either through the automatic or the play-offs. It is a period where squads will be used, games come thick and fast and seasons are shaped. On paper, Wolves’ squad should see them win the majority of these games, the fact that Kevin Macdonald, Jack Price, Matt Doherty and Leigh Griffiths neither featured nor started shows Wolves’ strength in depth. With the reintroduction of Jamie O’Hara further embeds the merits of this rather astounding squad. Clubs like Orient and Peterborough simple do not have these recourses, it is yet another sign of Wolves drop through English football that they have a squad depth that some Premier League clubs go all green eyed over.
With November two days old, Stevenage made the trip up the M1 to try and slay an in form Wolves side that have lost just once all season. Stevenage themselves arrived in excellent form, having won four from five, Graham Westley’s side have dragged themselves away from the drop zone and sit nineteenth. Wolves’ closest opponents in the League, Peterborough and Leyton Orient, were to lock horns, in the League’s big game. An opportunity arose for Wolves to close the gap on their opponents with a win against Stevenage.
With the game just seven minutes old, Bakary Sako epitomised his seismic shift in work rate and endeavour by chasing down the Stevenage full back. He snatched the ball off the rather shocked Boro full back, Sako then drove at the space left by the on rushing Stevenage defence, his smart, decisive, low ball evaded the away teams back four and found the foot of Kevin Doyle who could not miss and gave Wolves an early lead.
One thing that is always nice to see is a Wolves icon score, and Kevin Doyle, who is undoubtedly one of them, did with ease. His omission for the first twenty four minutes away at Bradford saw Wolves concede to The Bantams and look out of sorts, he was brought on and changed the game completely, the reintroduction, for Leigh Griffiths, yesterday made perfect sense. Another change saw Kevin Macdonald (Hamstring) miss out and be replaced by Bjorn Sigurdarson. Otherwise, Wolves remained unchanged, the settled defence looking yet another clean sheet and Henry & Sako were looking to dovetail and supply the front two.
Stevenage also remained unchanged after last week’s two nil win over Crawley Town. Tansey and the bullish Zoko started up top as a strike partnership, former Arsenal academy player Luke Freeman started on the right, with compatriot Morias on the left hand side.
After Doyle’s tap in, something called ‘calm’ swept over the Molineux, a potential banana skin seemed to be avoided with game not ten minutes old. Stevenage’s game plan soon went out the window and Wolves fans expected their team to assert their dominance, which they (sort of) did.
Stevenage’s first approach into their opponents final third was with Zoko, his squirming, twisting run saw the Ivorian run him self into the ground and Danny Batth cleared. Luke Freeman soon hit a shot that went through a crowd of players, Ikeme saw it late but dived to his right well to stop Freeman’s potentially dangerous shot.
These two efforts failed to make any sort of dent in Wolves’ dominance this was underlined minutes later. Sako, on the right hand, saw a lonely James Henry, his low pass was collected by the Millwall player. Henry then delivered an excellent cross field ball to Kevin Doyle, the Irishman’s cushioned header was met by an acrobatic swivelled shot from Bjorn Sigurdarson that Bruce Lee would have been proud of. A real moment of quality from Sigurdarson who up until that point had failed to make much of an impact, his main job being a lightening conductor, trapping and holding high balls from Ikeme and co.
Despite the height and athleticism up the top end of the field, Wolves were finding it difficult to connect their crosses to the head of the Icelander. Golbourne overlapped Sako and delivered a dinked ball that failed to connect with anyone, the resulting corner saw a James Henry shot comfortably saved by the Boro keeper, Day.
Despite the efforts, Wolves failed to get a second or third even. It was known throughout the crowd that a second goal would surely kill off Stevenage, despite it being the first half. You felt that if Wolves could nick another, the floodgates could open.
To Stevenage’s credit, they plugged away carving out good chances. Wolves defended stoutly and forced Stevenage to shoot from distance, Boro were unable to find a way through, into the eighteen yard box. Batth and Stearman did excellently well to track the runs of Zoko and Tansey, the front two were forced to give the ball out wide. This was exemplified when Tansey trapped a high ball from Day and hit an early shot that Ikeme tipped over.
With the first half approaching its end, Wolves had two excellent chances to put the game to bed. A quick break from Wolves involving Henry and Sako almost doubled Wolves’ lead, the former Millwall man sent his fellow winger down the left hand side. Henry checked Sako’s run, cut back to receive the Malians low pass, Henry’s effort curled high and wide. Soon after Sam Ricketts, positioned at right back for this game meaning that he has now played every position in the back four, hit a low cross to an onrushing Lee Evans, he hit a first time shot that was deflected straight back to him, the follow up effort failed to trouble the keeper.
A comfortable first half drew to a close, the only regret being that Wolves could legitimately had three of four goals and put the game to bed in the first half. Wolves were lacking any creative flair, the absence of Kevin Macdonald hindering Wolves’ ability to create. As good as Davis and Evans are in the midfield, they deep lying ones, neither are number tens, it is not their job. To an extent, Jackett could get away with this sort of tactical decision because of the low quality of the opposition. Furthermore, the performance’s of the wingers aided Wolves’ attacking prowess, both Sako and Henry were cutting inside and outside with ease.
The second half began and Wolves began brightly, the in-form James Henry whipped an incredible ball in that was cleared by the Boro defence. The half chances were being created but yet again, Wolves failed to score. Kevin Doyle shot wide, Sako had a cross cleared, the influential winger then played in Bjorn Sigurdarson, who was quite throughout the afternoon, had a shot cleared. The longer Wolves failed to score, the more Stevenage was getting back into the game.
Jackett was first to show his hand, he brought off the anonymous Bjorn Sigurdarson and brought on Leigh Griffiths, highlighting the genuine squad depth that the home side have. His impact was immediate, James Henry hit an early cross in to the twelve yard box, it missed the head of Leigh Griffiths by millimetres, drawing ‘oos’ from the home crowd, the mercurial striker having an instant impact, agonisingly close to putting the game to bed.
Stevenage crept their way back into the game, Ikeme was forced to save a shot from Zoko. Ikeme then executed a genuine world-class save, from a yard out, from Zoko, a ball came in and was cushioned into the penalty area, the resulting header was soft but the ball dropped kindly for Zoko who stabbed it straight at Ikeme’s chest, who parried away the shot. Wolves were getting complacent and sloppy, they needed another goal to calm things down again.
They got it, and it was a beauty.
Lee Evans picked the ball up in midfield, Stevenage’s defence was at odd, their shape was out and Evans picked out James Henry in acres of space. Griffiths was to his right, waiting for the squared pass, Henry refused to play in his team mate and hit a curling effort the nestled to the keeper’s left hand side.
Relief swathed across the ground as Boro fans heart sank, any hope was snuffed out like a candle. Wolves were going to collect three points, they had just had to hold out for nine minutes. Westley made a substitution, the winger, Morias came off for the wonderfully named Oumare Tounkara to beef up Stevenage’s attacking options.
Then came a blast from the past, Jackett soon responded, Bakary Sako was replaced with the once exiled, now reinstated, Jamie O’Hara. The reactions were mixed, a small pocket of boo’s came out of the South Bank, but thankfully, the reaction was largely positive.
A quick word on O’Hara, what he did was misjudged, it was in the heat of the moment at a time when the club was going through one of its worst periods in recent history. Thousands of Wolves fans were berating him and others, almost wanting a reaction from O’Hara, he gave one and fans got angry, and to some extent, rightly so. But times have changed, O’Hara is fit again, something he has not been since he joined the club and fans and O’Hara should draw a line under it and move on. Think of it on a footballing level, a fully fit, raring to go Jamie O’Hara, playing behind Griffiths, is a mouth-watering prospect at this level.
The whistle was blown and Wolves gleefully picked up another three points, moving them to within three points of the top, with a game in hand. One down, nine to go. As we sing Old Lang Syne on the 31st December we will soon know whether 2014 will be a year to remember for this once great club.