The roller-coaster of emotions that the Wolves faithful felt during the Old Gold’s game against Preston at Deepdale on Saturday matched the up and down, topsy-turvy nature of the club’s season so far.
Preston took the lead early on in the game thanks to a curling effort by Daniel Johnson but, after 20 minutes, his team-mate Joe Garner saw red following a dangerous tackle on Danny Batth, after landing a foot on the returning Wolves captain’s head. He wasn’t the only Preston player to be sent off – Bailey Wright joined him for an early bath for two bookings after a late tackle on Dominic Iorfa in the latter stages of the game.
Arsene Wenger recently claimed that it is always difficult to play against a depleted side away from home, following his side’s narrow win against Newcastle, who had seen striker Aleksandar Mitrovic sent off early on in the game. It seemed that Wolves were to prove him correct.
Certainly, Kenny Jackett’s side did not make light work of finding an equaliser against a dogged and inspired Preston side, with Jordan Pickford making a string of important saves for his team. With the confidence brittle in the Wolves camp, it seemed that the prized equalizer was never going to come.
That was until Kevin McDonald curled in a beautiful, unstoppable effort from outside of the Preston penalty area, leaving Pickford with no chance. The finish was met with sheer delight by the Wolves fans, and for McDonald, the goal sealed a superb week for him personally.
On Friday, the mercurial Scottish midfielder finally committed his future to the club, penning a new three-year deal. After being previously linked with Fulham back in June, McDonald had expressed his anger at the initial terms the club had offered him. He felt aggrieved by the ‘basic increase’ on offer, adding that the new deal ‘didn’t indicate’ that the club wanted to keep him. McDonald’s deal was to expire at the end of the current season.
He followed James Henry and Matt Doherty in signing new contracts this week, and claimed that he wishes to ‘kick on and improve his game’ now that his future has been agreed, whilst showing his clear belief in the current Wolves squad. He said that ‘the club is capable of a push up the table’, and cited the possibility of reaching the play-offs and the automatic promotion places.
To do that, McDonald will have to replicate the class that he has shown in the previous two seasons at Wolves. Following his debut campaign, the powerful Scot picked up the club’s Fans’ and Players’ Player of the Season awards, as well as featuring in the League One Team of the Year. McDonald continued his good form into the Championship, featuring in all 46 of Wolves’ league games, forming an effective partnership with Jack Price in the centre of the midfield.
His piece of brilliance ensured a vital point for Wolves on Saturday, especially following the loss to Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup during the week. Still, the club has not registered a victory in the league since August 29, and despite a positive 0-0 draw against the impressive Brighton last week, an air of uncertainty looms over Molineux.
This situation is all too familiar for Kenny Jackett. During a terrible spell leading up to Christmas last year, the club endured a terrible run of form, and many fans were calling for the Head Coach’s head.
Nevertheless, Leon Clarke (or the ‘Yorkshire Ripper as he is more affectionately known following his goal against Leeds) ended the points drought, after scoring a dramatic late winner against Sheffield Wednesday. The win kick-started a seven-game spell without losing, providing Wolves with the platform to drive up the table in the new year.
Sure, Clarke’s goal wasn’t as brilliant as ‘Super Kev’s’ on Saturday, but hopefully it will have the same effect. The club’s next game is against the rampant Fulham on Tuesday. With Jackett and his squad under pressure, and the confidence in and amongst the team seemingly low, it has turned into a must-win tie.