With several academy players shoring up Wolves’ mean defence currently, Craig Talbot looks at how some of the young defenders are performing right now.
When Kenny Jackett took charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers at the beginning of the 2013/2014 season following relegation from the championship, the silver lining (or golden lining if you like) was the chance for young and hungry players from the academy to come in and counter balance the high earners who were whole heartily frozen out and christened the ‘bomb squad’. It didn’t take too long for players such as Roger Johnson, Kevin Foley, Kevin Doyle and Jamie O’Hara make way for new recruits from the highly regarded youth academy like Danny Batth and Jack Price.
18 months on we are seeing the fruit of these labours and in no other place than the rock solid defence that has kept an impressive 5 clean sheets in the previous 8 games in all competitions.
Looking at The Wanderer’s line up against Blackpool, four out of the back five, including the ever present goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, came from the academy. Their will to hold down places in a hectic division is a testament to not only themselves as players but in the belief that Kenny Jackett has in them.
Saturday’s centre back pairing of Richard Stearman, the only one of the five not to come through the academy set up, and Brierley Hill boy Danny Batth have been a cornerstone of our recent success; both in the last few games and in the last year and a half. Batth, a former Young Professional of the Year, has moulded into classic, English, no nonsense centre back that’s not shy of a goal or two and has become a real Molineux favourite.
Playing at left back against the Tangerines was Kortney Hause, fresh from a loan spell at Gillingham where he made 14 appearances in his natural role at centre back. Hause got his chance to impress following the injury of Scott Golbourne and the suspension of Matt Doherty and has not shown anything to make Kenny think he deserves to be dropped. The 19-year old had looked slightly shaky at the beginning, perfectly understandable for a youngster playing in a role out of position, but has made the left back spot his own in recent weeks. His run and fantastic shot against Watford, showed his confidence and ability and Wolves fans can expect many more appearances from him in the future at fullback or his preferred position of centre half.
Dominic Iorfa played at right back last Saturday, making only his eighth appearance for the club. Capped at England Under 19 and Under 20 level, Iofra is a powerful and pacey player that can make an impact at both ends of the pitch and is even keeping the experienced club captain Sam Ricketts out of the starting eleven. He picked up the man of the man award on his debut in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth on the 6th December and ever since has become been a constant solid performer with the south bank getting behind him by chanting his name, no doubt making him feel on cloud 9.
Coming off the bench for the final few minutes against Blackpool was centre back Ethan Ebanks-Landell. Having signed a professional contract with the club in 2010, the 22-year old has been in and out of the team for the past 18 months due to injury. He shows potential with his power and physicality but looks raw round the edges. Another loan down to League One would maybe be the solution and grow as a player.
It is a breath of fresh air to see players from the academy thrive under Jackett’s direction. A lot of effort and money was spent on training and youth facilities and the development centre and it is good to see that good work come true onto the pitch. Whether or not these players will be able to continue their good work and make any steps up only time will tell. But for now, all signs are looking good.