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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 25/08/01
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Hungry like the wolves
By Matt Rowson

Norwich. Stoke. West Brom. Oxford United. Portsmouth. Watford. Millwall. Luton. Notts.County. Sheffield United. Oldham. Swindon. QPR. Barnsley. Wimbledon.

The link? All have been in the top flight more recently than Wolves.

Still, massive club, obviously. And the fans clearly haven't lost sight of what they see as Wolves' true standing in the British game if the general tone during our meeting at Molineux last season was anything to go by.

Back on planet Earth, however, the pomp of the Premiership slides further away the tighter that Wolves clutch at it, like a particularly slippery bar of soap. Our Cup Final appearance is more recent than Wolves' last top flight game.

Wolves have developed a knack of finishing just outside the play-off positions, to much general amusement. This season, Wolves' players' win and draw bonuses only apply if the club are in the top six after each such result. A performance-related reward scheme, apparently. Is there something we should know ? An institutionalised fear of a certain number, perhaps ? Surely a bonus scheme related to finishing no higher than eighth is more realistic ?

If last season's mid-table finish represents Dave Jones' honeymoon period, this season will need to see him start delivering. Mark McGhee unexpectedly re-entered Molineux's consciousness this week (which I'm not sure that even they deserve), to announce that Dave Jones needs to be given time to succeed at Wolverhampton. To appear to defend someone before they've begun to even think about catcalls is scant support indeed, and one has to question McGhee's motives here. The Union of the Snake is backing that Jones would probably rather do without. McGhee, with a crushing lack of modesty, goes on to ponder what he might have achieved given yet more slack in his time at the helm. The rest of us have often had the same fanciful thoughts.

The two performances so far have been mixed; Wolves' strikers have looked isolated at times, and there's probably a need for a bit more strength in the middle of the park, as betrayed by Jones' pursuit of Daryl Powell and Carlton Palmer. The defence, however, looked particularly solid during Sunday's win at Coventry. With self-proclaimed Golden Tit Jack Hayward ready to start spending again, however, the signs are that this may be Wolves' most convincing season for a while, much to the chagrin of Mr.McGhee.

In goal will be former Villa keeper Michael Oakes, reportedly good at the reflex saves if a bit dodgy on crosses. His cover will be Marlon Beresford, signed on a month's loan from Middlesbrough last week when former loanee Stephen Bywater was recalled by West Ham in the light of David James' injury.

At right-back, Australian hatchet man Kevin Muscat is definitely one of the wild boys in the side, and is becoming as careless with his general play as he has long been in the tackle. Another option here would be former Stockport fullback Sean Connelly; signed by his former mentor on a permanent deal in the summer, he was sent off at Vicarage Road during a loan spell with Wolves at the end of last season. On the left is England U21 fullback Lee Naylor, Frenchman Mohamed Camara being the most obvious alternative.

In the centre, Joleon Lescott has strength and confidence well beyond his years; that I've not seen any comparisons with Rio Ferdinand doesn't mean that they're necessarily not valid. Alongside him is Paul Butler, who Gifton will probably look forward to meeting again, with Frenchman Ludo Pollet, an injury casualty in our October clash last season, as the most obvious backup.

The central midfield berths have thus far been taken by Welsh International Carl Robinson, scorer of the winner on Sunday, and another ex-Stockport man Tony Dinning. Keith Andrews returns on Saturday, however, having missed the season's opening three games with suspension; at the age of 21, he captained the side at the end of last season. Temuri Ketsbaia is another option here; the mad Georgian did little to curry favour amongst the support when he threw his shirt into the dugout on being substituted at Selhurst Park last season. It would appear that those who dislike Ketsbaia blame his apparent arrogance, his valueing himself above his station. Hmmm.

On the flanks are new signings Mark Kennedy and Shaun Newton. Kennedy's involvement on Sunday was limited but invariably effective. Newton, in contrast, is perpetually involved, very quick and surprisingly aggressive for a small man. Newton has taken the place of Darren Bazeley, who joined Wolves from the Hornets with a view to a killing, but has spent much of his time at Molineux injured. He is expected to be out for four weeks with a knee injury. An alternative on the left is 35-year-old Andy Sinton.

Up front, the energetic and extremely promising Adam Proudlock has been partnered with unconvincing Belgian Cedric Roussel. George Ndah is on the verge of returning from a groin strain sustained pre-season, and one suspects that he will claim a regular striker's berth. Less confident will be Robert Taylor, ruled out with a virus but rarely featuring in any case. Young Irishman Chris Larkin and another quick striker Michael Branch complete the forward options, but Wolves also seem to be trying to strengthen here, with summer stories linking them to Jon Macken, Stan Collymore and, most recently, Kenny Miller of Rangers.

Wolves are desperately hungry for success, something that has often made Molineux an easier place to play at than it maybe ought to be... this desperation can border on impatience at times.

In any event, for me, for once, this isn't the major fixture of the weekend. Sure it's important, but much as I want us to win, I'll be saving a prayer for the morning after...