Wolves got a good point at White Hart Lane on Saturday. Brendan King reflects on both the game, and a warning from history.
Last Saturday, at White Hart Lane, Wolves were at their defensive best and our heroic Scotsman Stephen Fletcher produced his finest full-length lone striker performance. Kevin Doyle, on the other hand, has been regarded as our ultimate lone striker in recent seasons and all Wolves fans were fulsome in their praise for his bravery and hard work, whenever Wolves played 4-5-1.
Even then, though, ‘Doyler’ was light on goals, which was forgiven considering his unselfish hold-up play, which helped others score and was recognised as classic defending from the front. At that time,Doyle, was keeping Fletcher on the bench.
Then, with Doyle showing his typical indefatigability whilst playing for Ireland in a meaningless friendly, he was scythed down and left with a nasty knee injury for several months. Disastrously for Doyle and Wolves, the same player never returned even when fully fit. He’s either lost a yard of pace, or his nerve has gone, or both. For now he fails to get into the scoring areas, rarely strikes on goal and is now a much maligned pale shadow of his former self, having scored only a few scuffed goals in all of this season.
On Saturday, Kev never even came off the bench for the first time in his Wolves career, labelled as an ‘unused sub’, a fact that would have seemed impossible in previous seasons. In contrast, Fletcher has proved all of his former doubters wrong, particularly at White Hart Lane, in producing all the requirements of a brave lone striker for a full 95 minutes and scoring a typical poacher goal, helping hold the mighty Spurs to a 1-1 draw at home. With 10 goals in about as many (often cameo) appearances he’s now known as Wolves ‘goal machine’.
Sylvan Ebanks Blake is another player without the required form at this level – despite being a golden boot winner, with around 25 goals, in each of two consecutive seasons in the Championship. But in the Premier League, he’s spent most of his time on the physio’s or subs bench and has never had the chance to become the goal a game player of yesteryear.
Also finding form at the right time is Roger Johnstone, who defended stalwartly against top-class forwards without error and headed the parried strike that enabled Fletcher to stab in his 22nd minute close-range goal.
Much maligned holding mid-fielder, Henry, also had a great game, alongside Frimpong, the volatile 19 year old loanee from Arsenal. Frimpong endured constant abuse from the Gunners-hating Spurs fans, but still put in a spirited performance, drawing a fine save from Freidel, with a technically brilliant rising volley. The lad’s obviously going to be a brilliant professional, so long as he can calm his temper – he had to be taken off on Saturday (69th minute) before he was sent off, after a previous harshly awarded yellow card.
So Wolves, after Wednesday’s home replay with Birmingham in the FA Cup, is the massive home game with Aston Villa next Saturday looming large. It could well be that Robbie Keane, on a six week loan from LA Galaxy, could start, or appear at some stage, for Villa. This could be a real nostalgia, last time at Molineux, appearance (albeit in the wrong colours) for Robbie.
Wolves came close to bankruptcy in the eighties, which led to a descent into the old fourth division, after building a new stand. As Wolves have just demolished a different stand that was only 18 years old and with the team struggling for form as they did then, it’s vital that no repeat of becoming second rank takes place once again. Or the new North Stand could become a half-empty memorial of repeated overambitious folly.
There are numerous formerly great teams that have made that descent into near oblivion. It must not happen to Wolves again and the next two successive home Premier matches, including Liverpool on the last day of January, are vital in that survival struggle
In my view, if Wolves win those two home games, they’ll survive again in the top division. Lose either, or both, and the survival struggle could be all but lost as we drop into the bottom three. But I predict a win, a draw and survival, even mid-table security, as I continue to believe in the Wolves players, if not always in the coaching and management. I can see the light! C’mon Wolves!