On the 16th January I wrote an article about the departure of Stale Solbakken and in the appointment of the then Doncaster manager, Dean Saunders. 120 days later Saunders departs and the managerial merry-go-round continues to spin.
The 2012/2013 season culminated in Wolves succumbing to a 2-0 loss against a vibrant, mobile and exciting Brighton side who cemented their place in the play-offs. The 2000 or so away fans in the beautifully constructed AMEX stadium sang nobly and stayed behind to applaud the battered and bruised men in gold and, in addition, congratulate a magnificent achievement by Poyet’s men. The scenes at the end were a much more fitting tribute to the fans that have undergone what can only be described as mental torture for the past 2 years, compared to the ugly and unnecessary scenes of the last home game.
At 2.30pm relegation was confirmed, officially, Wolverhampton Wanderers had yet another “R” next to their name. In consecutive seasons the club has dropped like a stone to the third tier of English football. At full time Stephen Hunt and a tearful George Elokobi (I didn’t know he could cry!) went over to applaud the fans that responded with typical good grace, these two were not the reason Wolves were relegated.
The fight had left Wolves, not against Brighton, but months previously, the spirit and the morale had completely disintegrated from every facet of the team. In truth most fans felt relegation beckoned after Beckford’s double for Huddersfield. But the pain and heartache is causes when it is confirmed cannot be computed until it actually happens. It has been a very surreal last few days for fans of a once great club, they have been reflecting on an ultimately disastrous season, which started with so much promise with the appointment of Stale Solbakken. His “revolution” was left in tatters and he resigned/was sacked after a string of very disappointing results. The club appointed the Uncle Bryn-esque, Dean Saunders in very quick fashion, he was seen as the man to guide Wolves to this infamous light at the end of a very long, dark, uncertain tunnel.
Two positive points at home to a manager less Blackburn Rovers and away to Sheffield Wednesday was followed up by a string of seven games with out a win, picking up just 3 points out of a possible 21. Relegation form some thought, Saunders was given the benefit of the doubt though, new manager and all that. These doubts seems to be dispelled when Wanderers’ number 9 Sylvan Ebanks-Blake scored a rather lovely bicycle kick which contributed to a 2-0 win and 3 points at The New Den. Were things starting to click into place for Dean? Could it really happen?
The highlight of Saunders’ tenure was yet to come, a 3-1 loss to Nottingham Forest at the City Ground put a small buffer on expectations. It did, however, seem to be a catalyst for the teams next three results, 9 points out of a possible 9 in the next three games, including a first half rout of Birmingham City at St. Andrews. This was play off form some thought, it seemed that Morgan had unearthed a talented man who knew his stuff.
12 out of 12 was not achieved, Wolves’ slump continued as Dougie Freedmen’s men scored 2 in 10 minutes to halt the rise up the table. Things were looking grim, teams around Wolves, Peterborough, Barnsley and Huddersfield were all winning at the same time. Those three results merely kept Wolves in the fight for survival, without those wins we would have been dead and buried by April. By this time Saunders’ ability as a manager was brought into question, people felt he was out of his depth at this level whilst others recognised that he had not been in the job for very long and that it would take time. No manager is ever a quick fix.
Relegation was all but confirmed on the 20th April when Wolves conceded a gut wrenching last minute goal against Charlton at The Valley. Anger was now the main emotion amongst the south bank and co. Saunders’ tactics were now being brought into play. Putting Stephen Hunt, a winger, clearly, in the number 10 position behind an inform Kevin Doyle and starting games, both home and away, with three full backs was seen as a negative approach for a club that had to get out of this relegation mess. In addition, Saunders started playing 5 at the back when it got really desperate, it was clear he was setting up not to lose games, when in reality, we absolutely had to win games in order to stay up. Wolves have never been a team to draw games, 9 draws all season emphasises this.
On the other hand, he did have his positives, the introduction of Jake Cassidy, Danny Batth and brief appearance from Liam McAlinden was seen as a positive step. Furthermore the signing of Jack Robinson had shored up Wolves’ constant issues at left back lets hope we can get him on loan again next year, Saunders also recognised the need for a change in defence and brought in Gorkss on loan, who initially, looked quite lively, next to Roger Johnson. He also got the best from Kevin Doyle and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, something that previous managers have failed to do, especially with the former. They both found their shooting boots and if it were not for Blake’s leg break against Birmingham, he would have been the man to take that half chance in the box. Maybe Wolves’ fortunes would have been different, we have seen what it is like when a team has proper, ruthless number 9 to put the ball in the back of the net.
The final nail was well and truly hammered in on Saturday. Despite an open post match interview the writing seemed to be on the wall. Despite what people say and will no doubt say about Dean Saunders as a manager, it has to be said that he was always a very honest man, he never hid anything from anyone. Some people called it delusional, fine, I happen to think it was quite noble. Without sounding horrendously arrogant, Saunders could not turn down the Wolves job when offered it. As poor as we have been all season, Wolves are still a big club with a long history. Saunders will no doubt have thought that he could push the club forward, he took a big risk leaving a Doncaster side that he was in the process of assembling.
We should thank Dean Saunders for trying his hardest, regardless of his ability. Saunders was a pragmatist who did his best with what he had at his disposable. He did not have time to implement his own ideas and was forced to coach the team in the simplest and most dogmatic way possible. Sadly, his best, was not good enough, I’m sure he feels responsible for the clubs further decline and will have no doubt wanted a full pre season to assemble his own team and rewrite the mess of the last 9 months. Maybe he would, we shall never know, he began “rebuilding the club 10 minutes ago on Saturday” but his rebuilding was halted because the powers that be felt that his work at Wolves was done.
So the merry-go-round continues as Wolves drop to the third tier, only time will tell whom the club appoint next. All we do know is, he has got one hell of a job on his hands.