Rewind back to the start of May. Wolves were fighting for a play-off place, during the club’s first season back in the Championship following promotion from League One.
A 4-2 win against Millwall was not enough to achieve sixth place, with the club narrowly missing out on goal difference to Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich. ‘Next year will be our year!’ I said, doing my best impression of a Liverpool fan. The Old Gold faithful truly believed that Kenny Jackett was on to something.
The Guardian newspaper agreed, predicting that Wolves would finish top of the pile come the end of the 2015-16 season, ahead of Paul Clement’s big-spending Derby, and Aitor Karanka’s organised Middlesbrough squad.
So why, 22 games into the season, do Wolves find themselves only seven points clear of the dreaded relegation places, with a minus goal difference, and only two wins in 12, without a home victory since the beginning of October?
I believe that there are five fundamental reasons for Wolves’ demise this season.
1) Bakary Sako’s departure.
Without question, Bakary Sako was the most talented winger in the Championship last season in my opinion. Capable of scoring free-kicks, long range thunderbolts and leaving full-backs up and down the country tied in knots, the Malian was a firm favourite amongst the Molineux faithful. His departure on a free transfer became inevitable. But, after showing incredible loyalty to stay at the club during Wolves’ season in the third tier of English football, very few fans begrudged him of his move to Crystal Palace. He cried at the end of his last game against Molineux, but not as much as I cried when Sheyi Ojo was signed as his replacement.
In Jordan Graham, Wolves may have found Sako’s long term substitute, but he has a long way to go yet to emulate Sako’s impact.
2) Nouha Dicko’s injury.
The Malian striker finished joint top scorer with Sako at the end of the 2014-15 season, with 15 goals. This was a remarkable feat, because of an injury suffered at the end of 2014 that kept him sidelined for over a month. It was no coincidence that during that period, Wolves failed to win in five games, scoring only one goal.
Dicko has scored 28 goals in 65 games for Wolves over two spells at the club. But, owing to a crippling knee injury suffered against Charlton at the end of August, his total is not likely to increase this season. With Dicko’s injury and Sako’s decision to leave, only Benik Afobe remains of the tremendous trio that pulled Wolves up the table during 2015. His replacements, Adam Le Fondre, Bright Enobakhare and Grant Holt, have scored only six goals between them in all competitions this season.
3) ‘Football reasons’.
Richard Stearman played every league game for Wolves during 2015. A towering presence at the heart of the defence, he finished the season as winner of the Fans’ and Players’ Player of the Year, ahead of the previously mentioned attacking trio.
But, on Deadline Day of last August, the club decided to sell Stearman to Fulham, for ‘football reasons’. Stearman was ‘soon to be overtaken’ according to Jez Moxey. The Chief Executive was referring to Kourtney Hause, Dominic Iorfa and Ethan Ebanks-Landell. The latter of which, despite his goal against Nottingham Forest, has been very suspect at the centre of the Wolves backline, which I alluded to in a previous article. Mike Williamson, during his short time at the club, managed to stabilise the back four, but following his departure, the defence looks disorganised and demotivated again.
4) Lack of experience.
10 players left the club during the summer of 2014. Most notably, Bakary Sako and Richard Stearman, but club captain Sam Ricketts, goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak and Irish striker Kevin Doyle also departed. That is a total of 1067 games in English football, stretched across all four divisions, and not including international appearances.
Wolves’ success under Kenny Jackett since 2013 has been based on a balance of experience and youth. However, with Jed Wallace, Conor Coady and Nathan Byrne being the only permanent signings that the club made ahead of the new season, I feel that there is not enough know-how in the squad to help get the club out of trouble. Mike Williamson helped the team’s cause, but he was soon recalled by Newcastle.
5) Kenny Jackett.
When Kenny Jackett replaced Dean Saunders at Wolves in 2013, he took over a club in turmoil. He drastically changed the playing squad, whilst severely trimming the wage bill. With the signings that he made, including Kevin McDonald and Sam Ricketts, he masterminded a triumphant season and an instant return to the Championship from League One – that cannot be forgotten.
But this season, I feel that Jackett has been unable to make an impact on games from the substitutes’ bench, shown by the club’s game against Nottingham Forest last week. This could be owing to injuries to key players, such as Dicko and Kourtney Hause, but does he know what his strongest team is yet?
Many fans are unsurprisingly calling for the Head Coach’s dismissal. I believe that if the club are to sack him, it must be done very soon, before the beginning of the January transfer window.