A dominant second half performance from Wolves and Bakary Sako gave the Molineux men all three points.
When Wolves’ fixtures were announced, Saturday’s game was seen as a key game in the season. Along with Leyton Orient, Peterborough and Brentford, Sheffield United was seen as a vital fixture for the men in Old Gold.
Whilst the Blades’ season has not gone as well as expected, with just one win all season, Wolves fans were still expecting a stern test, for the first half, that is exactly what Wolves got. Sheffield United, for the first forty five minutes, were outstanding, their performance was not befitting of a team languishing in the bottom half of League One.
Strong performances from Febian Brady, Jose Baxter and Marlon King put Sheffield United on top in the first half, thankfully, ala Wolverhampton Wanderers, they failed to capitalise on a positive performance. Wolves defended like the British Army, Batth and Ricketts stopping short of digging trenches and putting up barbed wire to stop Hall and co. netting for the Blades.
Wolves bounced back last Saturday, defeating local rival, Shrewsbury Town, 1-0 thanks to an extremely late last minute penalty from Bakary Sako. Jackett made two changes from last Saturday’s victory, controversial midfielder, David Davis, picked up a fifth yellow card resulting in a one game ban. This meant fellow academy youngster Jack Price was given an opportunity in the first team, one that he took with vigour and assurance in the second half. A second change saw starlet, Zeli Ismail, dropped from the eighteen-man squad all together was replaced by Dave Edwards. Jackett lined his men up in a 4-4-1-1 formation – Ikeme kept his place in goal despite a blunder against Walsall, the new look defence stayed the same, Ricketts retaining his place as a centre half thanks to the good work of new signing Scott Golbourne. The midfield was the hub of the changes, Edwards started at wide right, Price and McDonald were tasked with battling the Sheffield midfield, last years player of the year Bakary Sako filled his usual berth at left midfield. Bjorn Sigurdarson and Leigh Griffiths started up front.
David Weir named an unchanged side from the loss against Preston, leaving them third bottom on just four points, surprising really considering the attacking options United have to offer. The Blades lined up in an interesting 4-1-4-1 formation, full to the brim with attacking, young and vibrant talent. Long started in goal, in front of him was former Wolves defender Matt Hill at full back, the centre backs were Harry Maguire alongside another former Wolves player, Neil Collins, with McMahon occupying the other full back position. The midfield five consisted of Brandy, Doyle, Cuvelier, Baxter and Hall, with controversial, former Blues striker, Marlon King up top.
The game began brightly, Sheffield United were doing all the early running, Jose Baxter executing a fine piece of skill to jink past the bewildered Wolves defenders, his tame shot was caught well by Carl Ikeme, his first test of a busy first half. Wolves began defending deep right from the off, the back four doing their utmost to stop the former Saddler Febian Brady looking excellent in the opening exchanges. His presence in the final third was felt all over, both full backs and centre backs were struggling to contain this nippy wide man. This was exemplified when Matt Doherty tripped the aforementioned wide man to award United a free kick, fortunately for the Irishman his team-mates cleared the ball. He then executed some excellent skill to cut in down the right hand side, leaving the covering Ricketts for dead. His neat ball found the former Oldham and Everton man, Jose Baxter, his shot was wide, fortunately for Wolves.
Sheffield’s chances were mounting and they were not taking them, does this remind you of a team? They were failing to capitalise on an incredibly dominant position, the frustration from manager David Weir was palpable. Here was an opportunity for United to pick up their second win of the season, yet despite all the quality shown up front, they were failing to score.
Wolves had a rare opportunity in an otherwise dull first half, Kevin McDonald played a delightful chipped ball over his former team mates to Dave Edwards, he popped the ball left to Leigh Griffiths, his cross was cleared and the attack broke down.
With the end of the first half in sight, both teams were failing to find that bit of quality in the final third, especially Sheffield United, their transitional play from defence to attack was excellent, something their opponents could learn a lot from. There was hardly long a ball in sight, in contrast, that’s all the home team could do, in accurate, high long balls were the order of the day much to the frustration of the Wolves fans, and to the delight of the United fans.
Wolves, against the run of the play, had probably one of the best chances of the game. An in swinging corner found the head of Matt Doherty whose header was cleared off the line, if that had gone in, it would have been very unfair on the away side who were simply excellent as the first half ended. A particular highlight was seeing United’s full backs bombing on, like a Premier League side in fact. They genuinely contributed to the attack that Wolves were defending well against.
Jackett saw how Wolves were being overrun in the midfield, he saw that United were dominating and, ultimately, knew that Wolves were lucky to be down by at least one goal. He took the brave but game changing decision to take the rather quiet Bjorn Sigurdarson off and brought on fans favourite, Kevin Doyle.
Within ten minutes of the second half, you could tell that Doyle had changed the tempo of the game. It was a great scenario for him to come into, the game was tepid, with few chances from the home side. Doyle took the game by the scruff of the neck, throughout the second half, Doyle picked up the ball and ran at defenders, something Collins and co. failed to deal with.
Despite this Sheffield had an excellent chance, Marlon King deftly brought down a long, cross-field pass, over to the United left hand side. He delivered a dinked ball to Febian Brandy whose bullet header went inches wide. Yet another let off for Wolves, how long was this going to last? It looked like Wolves were going to concede any minute now.
Doyle’s influence soon began to be felt, his trademark turn and shot drew ‘ooos’ and ‘ahhhs’ from all sides of the ground. Wolves’ improvement in the second half was two fold, firstly. Kevin Doyle completely changed the pulse of the match. Secondly, Wolves’ passing improved hugely, they looked a completely different team. McDonald and Price were particular highlights in the middle of the field. The latter really proving his worth in the team, Price looked like a really modern midfielder, constantly wanting the ball, moving into space, giving short and then wanting it back again. A new breed of footballer for Wolves, signalling the new era at the club and someone who, thank god, quashed any sort of return of you-know-who in the middle of park for Wolves.
The breakthrough came just after the hour, Wolves, on the break, with a rejuvenated Bakary Sako powered down his left hand side, leaving Hill for dead. Sako looked up and saw Griffiths bombing on in front of him, he whipped an early cross, that found the feet of Leigh Griffiths who, despite a poor first touch, managed to bundle the ball home past George Long. Griffiths celebrated a fifth goal of the season in front his adoring fans in the South Bank. Griffiths seems to be relishing this role, he looks comfortable performing in front of the passionate home fans, he has confidence and for a striker such as Griffiths that is priceless for everyone involved.
A breakthrough for Wolves, with half an hour to go, the home side looked in complete control and were expected to push on now. Wolves duly did, the lines man flagged, rightly, for Dave Edwards goal. Griffiths cut in from the right breezed past four statuesque Sheffield United defenders, hit a shot, which was deflected. Griffiths composed himself picked out Dave Edwards, whose cushioned header nestles in Long’s net. Unfortunately, but currently, Edwards was offside at the point Griffiths dinked the ball to him meaning he was active and therefore offside.
Jackett’s second change saw the physical presence of Jake Cassidy be introduced for the influencial poacher, Leigh Griffiths. Probably to give Wolves a bit more of presence in the last twenty minutes, Cassidy gives Wolves something a bit different especially against some robust centre halves. Five minutes later, Jackett shook things up again, a changing in his tactics maybe? He was bringing on attacking talent, knowing Wolves struggle to hold onto leads, you could tell he felt that Wolves needed another goal to put things to bed, despite them being comfortable against a deflated Sheffield United.
With fifteen or so minutes left Sako was coming into his own, with the full backs tired, the Frenchman was loving his football. At this level, you could argue he is the best player in the League, he was beating his fullback time and time again. It did not matter if it was Hill or McMahon, they were being, excuse the cliché, roasted. We saw a different sort of Sako in the game yesterday, people, myself included were getting increasingly frustrated at Sako and his performances.
He was dithering with the ball, not moving it up the field quick enough. Furthermore, when he was given the ball on the wing he would take far too long to put the cross in, despite crossing being one of his greatest asset. All that was blown out the water yesterday, we were seeing a Premier League class of player destroying League One defenders.
Wolves had another excellent chance to go two-nil up. Doherty, down his right hand side, cut the ball back to former Blade, Kevin McDonald, whose shot blazed inches over George Long’s crossbar. An excellent hit and a brilliant piece of technique considering the Blades defenders were closing in on their former teammate.
Sheffield United, despite the pressure they were being put under by their opponents took till the 80th minute to make a change Taylor came on for Hall with ten minutes to go. This had very little effect on the game, one person who did have an effect on the game was Wolves’ number ten.
With normal time also up, Wolves looked to be cruising to an ultimately comfortable 1-0 win. That’s until Bakary Sako scored Wolves’ best goal of the season, Wolves had a corner which was cleared with relative ease, it came out to Kevin McDonald, who managed to fumble a pass out left to Bakary Sako, who took three steps and hit a stunning left foot shot that rose and rose into the net. It drew gasps from the home crowd who had just witnessed a genuine world-class goal.
It capped a magnificent performance not just by Sako who was by far the man of the match, but also by the whole team. Every single player stepped up their game by one or two notches. Wolves dug deep in the first half, defended excellently and then turned on the style in the second half
Wolves picked up their seventh win this season, plunging Sheffield to the foot of the table and putting a lot of pressure on new man David Weir. Credit goes to everyone from the players to the manager, who got his tactics spot on to stifle the excellent Sheffield United in the first half and then switching up and sucker punching the away side.
After a string of disappointing performances Wolves looked to have finally clicked, we saw glimpses of Jackett’s ideals and philosophies being transferred onto the team. Colchester next week, eminently winnable, and it will be nine from nine. With Wolves sitting pretty League One’s top three.
What home defeat to Walsall?