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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 22/12/01
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Moving on
By Matt Rowson

Moving house is not terribly easy.

I was in my flat in Bedford for five-and-a-half years, and moving on a week ago was struggle enough. It doesn't matter that Bedford, pleasant enough as it is, is nonetheless unremarkable. I'd been there long enough to become perfectly familiar with the environs, comfortable with my surroundings. I knew how things worked, which corner shops not to buy milk from, what the quickest way to wherever was, what the best pubs were for watching the football, meeting friends, grabbing some food.

Now I'm in Watford. There are many good reasons for being here (apart from the obvious, which wasn't the main driver whatever my work colleagues think). But it's still going to be much less comfortable for a while, until we find our feet. It's going to take time to sort out or dump the five-and-a-half years of detritus that was dragged down the M1 in my wake, let alone venture out and get comfortable in our new surroundings.

All things considered, it stands to reason that the longer you've been in the same place, the more settled you are in your ways, the harder it is both to adapt to new surroundings and, prior even to that, to make the jump and voluntarily put yourself in the position of having to try.

So Wolves' recent mediocre run of form shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. I'm sure the slip back into the play-off pack wasn't a conscious decision on anyone's part, but with probably their best side for a few years it was all getting a bit too real for Wolves up there. No more nice comfortable unthreatening Division One. No more making up for dropping points at Grimsby or wherever by dint of a nice comfy fixture the following week. Most of all, a complete change of tone and approach would be required. The Premiership is where the real Big Clubs live. Wolves, suddenly, would have no identity,

(Incidentally, it made me chuckle in researching this preview to find one Wolves fan on a Messageboard looking forward to Saturday's game by complaining that fixtures like Watford away are the reason that he's so fed up with Wolves being in Division One. He's been to Vicarage Road sooo often. Well, hello pal. Isn't it Wolves who've been in this division since the Berlin Wall came down, longer than anyone else but Pompey? What do you think everyone else thinks about trips to Molineux and that gorgeous subway?)

Wolves are likely to line up in a 4-4-2 formation at the weekend. In goal will be former Villa keeper Michael Oakes, in reasonable form and with no real competition at the club at the moment. Understudy is youngster Matthew Murray.

At right-back is the profoundly unpleasant Australian captain Kevin Muscat, while on the left is player-of-the-season Lee Naylor, a sound defender with a long throw but questionable distribution. Cover in the full-back positions comes from former Stockport stalwart Sean Connelly and Liberian Mohamed Camara.

In the centre, the impressive Joleon Lescott should play before starting a three match suspension on Boxing Day. However his regular partner Paul Butler serves a one-match ban. Butler is now Wolves captain, presumably not for the sort of mature response to being made a fool of that put Gifton out of the game for eighteen months. In his absence, Wolves have a capable deputy in Frenchman Ludo Pollet although Muscat, the likely stand-in captain, can also play in the centre.

The central midfield pairing for the win over Birmingham on Sunday, a more impressive showing than recent fare, was Welshman Carl Robinson with another charmer Alex Rae, whose combative performances mark him out as one of Wolves' most important players of late. His regular partner is Scottish international Colin Cameron, but Cameron had been carrying an injury for a while and was rested at the weekend. Young Irishman Keith Andrews is another possibility in the middle.

On the right, Shaun Newton is Wolves' leading scorer this season but his form, which was never around for long enough to cement him a regular place at Charlton, appears to have deserted him again. Were it not for a lack of competition caused in part by the cartilage injury that has seen Darren Bazeley miss the last twelve months, Newton may have spent less time in the Wolves starting eleven than he has done. (Bazeley, by the way, is pushing thirty and greying badly. So he's virtually a different player to the fey, perpetually young winger that we remember. No need to baulk at the sight of his name in the Wolves' squad, then.) On the left, Mark Kennedy is a major threat whenever he escapes the confines of his dodgy hamstrings... he'll be in Germany this week seeking expert treatment, which must presumably make him a doubt for the weekend. If so, either the versatile if limited Camara or thirty-five year-old Andy Sinton could come in down the flank.

Up front, Wolves' recent 3m signing (gosh, they're such a Big Club) Kenny Miller is out until after Christmas with a broken collarbone. As a result we are likely to see Nathan Blake, winning friends with some aggressive, hardworking performances, alongside Dean Sturridge. Sturridge, who plays his last game for Wolves at the weekend unless his month's loan from Leicester is extended, has struggled to impress since his early hat-trick against Barnsley.

Other options up front include George Ndah, still plagued by injury and another about to serve a suspension, eager-to-please Belgian Cedric Roussel and youngster Adam Proudlock.

According to Truls' Site, Wolves have spent 6,427 days (and counting) in the wrong division. All the evidence, however, suggests that they're much more comfortable where they are. Watford's recent run of form has seen us move to within three points of the play-offs and a win on Saturday, in defiance of Wolves' strong away record, would push us closer to the promotion places.

Which might be the best thing for all concerned.