(Image via www.birminghammail.co.uk)
As the festive season comes to a close, Santa Claus has been kind on Wolves in December 2014. Despite a bumpy and controversial start against Bournemouth, Wolves went through the rest of December undefeated with three wins and a draw. Two of these wins came against Top six opposition in the form of Watford and Brenford. So, what helped Wolves turn around in the last month of the year? Well, our first point provides a clear answer…
1. All hail Nouha Dicko
I spoke last month about how Wolves poor form seemed to have a direct link with Nouha’s absence. Out of the team with a hamstring injury, the Mali Man is back with the bang. Making his comeback in our 1-1 draw with Brighton, his pace, acceleration and low centre of gravity has been much missed. Dicko’s hounding of opposition defences, blistering speed and run’s down the channels have helped Wolves to find their mojo again.
Playing their usual 4-2-3-1 system, Wolves have been able to go back to the playing style that makes them so potent. Nouha has already hit the goal trail since his return. A tap in following Van La Parra’s run into the box v Watford and a superb solo goal v Brentford. Wolves have been lacking a man up top to hit the net… and that man has returned. Danny Graham has now returned to Sunderland following his loan spell. He was a typical no.9 that Wolves lacked. But his style of play didn’t suit Wolves and this is why he ultimately didn’t work out at Molineux.
Wolves found even more good news when Mali’s squad for the African Cup of Nations was announced and saw the exlcusion of Nouha Dicko. Although this will be hugely disappointing and undeserving for Dicko, Wolves fans will be relieved to see Nouha is still with the club as they lead their charge into the New Year. Although fans will be disappointed to see Sako depart for a month, many have come to realise that Dicko could be the key to Wolves success in the next few months.
Nouha now needs a partner and/or competitor to push and challenge for his place in January. This will be the mission that Jacket, Moxey and Thelwell must complete in January. Just because Dicko is back, it doesn’t mean that he is our only saviour. Nouha’s absence and Wolves subsequent performances should have been a wake up call for the urgency required in finding the next ‘Nouha Dicko’ for this Wolves team.
2. Wolves can actually play another formation
It has been clear to see over the last few months that not only can Wolves play better in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it seems to be the only formation that they could play. Anytime Wolves have reverted to any other formation than this, they have looked slow and vulnerable. But with Dicko out of the fray, Wolves needed to re-kindle that energy and pace.
In stepped Van La Parra to make a 4-4-2 formation up top with Danny Graham and you know what… it actually kind of worked. Wolves used this in their 1-0 win away to Sheffield Wednesday and were comfortably on top v Bournemouth until Rajiv’s sending off. Although Wolves are more comfortable in their usual 4-2-3-1 role, it has proven that Kenny Jackett does have a Plan B.
3. Jurassic Clarke strikes again
He seems to pop up at the most unlikeliest occasions but when he does, Leon Clarke does it with ease. His well timed tap in for Wolves winner v Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough helped Wolves gain their first win since October. Although his appearances will be very limited now following Dicko’s return, his odd substitute appearances could prove vital for Wolves. A point which Fancast pundit Ben Husband pointed out on the podcast a few weeks ago.
It’s not just Clarke’s odd goal which we need to note, but his performances off the ball. When he has arrived from the bench, he seems to have helped Wolves move up the pitch. His control and holding up the ball has vastly improved. His switching of play and getting into the right positions have gone unnoticed.
In the last few remaining seconds of Wolves 1-1 draw with Brighton, Clarke was well positioned at the far post to receive a Sako cross only for it to be slightly cleared out. If it had dipped only a fraction of a second earlier, Clarke would have headed in the winner with Molineux erupting (and running onto the pitch as the South Bank like to sing).
Clarke won’t be the striking hero Wolves need, but he could still make more of an impact on games this season than we realise.
4. The Kids are alright
With injuries to Scott Golbourne and Ethan Ebanks Landell, the suspension of Matt Doherty and uncertainties of the performances of club captain Sam Ricketts, Kenny put faith in the one thing he has done since he joined Wolves as Head Coach, the kids. Jackett handed Dominic Iorfa his debut in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth, followed by Kourtey Hause against the Owls.
Both players were thrown right into the deep end, in a team stuck in a rut and in a league as physical as a WWE match. But both have risen to the occasion and surprised fans along the way. Iorfa has impressed fans the most with the ease he has when he plays. Tall, leggy, nimble and quick, Iorfa has made the right back position his own. He takes on opposing players with brute force but is able to attack in their half with silky speed. It’s not surprising that his father was also a professional footballer playing for QPR and Galatasary.
What is most impressive with both Hause and Iorfa is their control of the ball. The ball seems to stick to their feet as they glide past players. This may be evidence of the style of training that Wolves and many other teams are providing at academy level. Getting their players comfortable with the ball. Something which many critics have cited as what England seem to be lacking at International level compared to their closest rivals.
It’s only been a month, but Hause and Iorfa are making the right impressions. It will give Jackett a positive problem with Golbourne and Doherty return. That’s a very good back up to have.
5. VLP will find the net… eventually
It’s been a tough month for VLP in front of goal. An incredible close range miss against Sheffield Wednesday was followed by a goal which was then disallowed for offside. Add a near post shot against Watford and a perfectly timed cross which resulted in VLP’s header hitting the crossbar, Rajiv is due a goal and it will surely come soon.
Van La Parra set about becoming a striker as mentioned in point three for the start of the month but has been reverted back to his original position on the wing since Nouha Dicko’s return. After his impressive start to the season and a man of the match winning performance against Cardiff, Rajiv seemed to go dark. Unable to make the starting eleven for weeks, you wondered what had happened to him?
Since his return, he took up the striker role well and has been tearing down the wings since. He still has his odd weak game, recently against Brentford for example, but you can see that the potential is there. Luke Thompson pointed out in our last podcast that VLP is like, in some ways, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry in his early days. He also started out as a winger but was molded into a striker. Could the same happen for Rajiv?
Van La Parra is still finding his feet in the English leagues but his potential will grow and develop with every game he plays in. He might not be a match winner like Bakary Sako, but when Sako departs for the African Cup of Nations, there is no reason why VLP can’t fill and challenge him for that role.
6. Morgan shows some passion
You can call it unprofessional, arrogant or dumb, but Morgan’s touchline rant against referee Mike Jones following his very poor performance in Wolves 2-1 home defeat against Bournemouth was good to see, in an odd way.
Morgan has taken a back seat since Kenny Jackett’s arrival. Probably a personal choice following his more public appearances in Wolves demise over the last few years. This has helped Kenny get on with his job, Jez be the public board member figurehead and the club’s continual campaign to win fans back over with their professional, polite and personal approach to fan engagement.
But with the Molineux faithful calling for Mike Jones head when the final whistle blew, it was in a strange and nice to see Morgan appear on pitch side to give his two cents to Mr Jones. Morgan did what all the fans in attendance and around the world wanted to do and it struck a cord with fans with a man who has perhaps for the right reasons kept his distance. Morgan rightly received a fine from the FA for his actions. But his actions have reminded fans that despite now being a shadow, he does care about the club on and off the pitch.
7. Pirlo Price
It could have been the formation we were playing but Wolves lacked some stability in midfield. In stepped Jack Price to plug the gap in the sinking ship. Wolves midfield dominance has been one of the key elements to their success over the last few months but recently Kenny wasn’t able to find to right ingredients to bring the ship back to the surface.
Jackett recalled Price from his loan at Leyton Orient and Wolves haven’t looked back since. Price has teamed up again with Kevin McDonald and to help solidify the middle of the park. It’s a partnership that worked so well last season, so there was no reason why it couldn’t worked as well in the Championship. Price has become Wolves own version of Pirlo (Even though the beard does make it even better). Price’s tenacity to win the ball back and re-asserting possession has given McDonald a chance to dictate play and move forward. Something which helped Kevin create Wolves second goal against Brentford before the end of the year.
Jack Price’s return to the starting eleven has almost been as important as Dicko’s. His calming and steely influence in the middle of the park has helped Wolves produce performances and results that we saw week in week out last season.