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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 25/02/03, 7.45pm
Wolverhampton Wanderers
On the verge of madness
By Matt Rowson

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the US-led military build-up in the Middle East, one related theme is surely beyond debate. The French position has been pretty clear throughout, a political stance, whatever the motivation, that appears to be backed by a huge majority of the French people. An inconvenience to Dubya and his colleagues however, and a woefully misplaced line of argument originating in the States has pilloried the French for ingratitude, citing the Americans' part in France's liberation from the Nazis sixty-odd years ago. In a particularly incomprehensible perversion of the facts, a US radio station has, if I heard today's radio report correctly, invited listeners to bring a baseball bat to a "bash a Peugeot for peace" day. The World's biggest democracy - "The Land of the Free" - as long as your free will coincides with theirs, apparently. Arrogance beyond belief. The more jingoistic element of the American populace are not doing much to dispel the more widely held belief that many Americans believe the Rest of the World to be a small county in Utah.

And so we come to Wolves, whose supporters share a comparably unidimensional view of the world, albeit in a much narrower, less consequential context. The recent televised Cup tie with Rochdale displayed all the Moulinex faithful's most laughable characteristics... howling disdain and frustration at their side's every move following Rochdale's fortunate equaliser, then reveling in a success to which they had contributed nothing as Wolves scrambled back into the game.

"Who the f***ing hell are you?" was the comically gleeful chant directed at their Third Division visitors. "Don't worry mate, we shout that at everybody" came the slightly boastful explanation offered to a Dale fan objecting on a Wolves messageboard.

Suddenly contempt for the Wolves begins to turn to pity. Season upon season of finishing seventh must be hard enough to take, but when you genuinely believe yourselves to be the only side in the division the confusion must leave you on the verge of madness.

For the benefit of any Wolves fans reading this therefore, if any have managed to overcome the bafflement induced from discovering a Website apparently about another football club, here's some info.

Watford is a small town in Hertfordshire, inside the M25 and west of the M1. Just on the edge of London, then, which is a bit like Birmingham but much bigger, not as dull and not as unpleasant.

On Tuesday evening, you'll see a number of men playing football at the Moulinex. Some of these will be Wolves players, a concept you'll be familiar with. Another set of players, those not dressed in dirty yellow shirts, will be Watford players. That's us. Another football team. Yes, really. Like the Wolves, only different... for example, our Chief Executive has never issued a blustering statement apologising for complimentary tickets being given to Asylum seekers (he "didn't know") following a public outcry - rather than, as a website editor pointed out, to more deserving parties such as corporate sponsors.

Another example... we've actually been to the Premiership recently, and under the guidance of a manager that you hounded out of the Moulinex a couple of years earlier.

Hope that this helps.

The one component that has always been missing for Wolves has been a team that's actually been good enough, which is a bit of a critical omission really. The stadium's there, the large support (notice that the word "fantastic", lazily daubed over Manchester City, Newcastle etc is never used in relation to Wolves), the indulgence offered by commentators ("This club deserves to be in the Premiership" - Alan Green. No, you muppet, they always finish seventh).

This season, however, some key signings have built on a squad that so enjoyably snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at the end of last season and now have arguably the most experienced squad in the Division.

In goal for Wolves will be Matt Murray, an England U21 International. He's made some bad mistakes in recent games, but has so far been spared the mob-criticism generally offered to his deputy Michael Oakes.

At right back, Dennis Irwin has been there and done that, albeit slightly more quickly than he is now able to, his lack of pace restricting both his attacking contribution and his comfort against an opponent that runs at him. Lee Naylor on the left has been inconsistent but is often exposed down the left by the limited defensive contribution of Mark Kennedy. Naylor scored a memorable long-range goal to give Wolves the lead at Portman Road last week, a game that they eventually won 4-2. Marc Edworthy deputises on the right, although he's had some largely unsuccessful run-outs at centreback recently. Mohamed Camara is still knocking around but appears to be out of favour and is out of contract at the end of the season, whilst Ivan Ingimarsson is on loan at Brighton.

In the centre, Joleon Lescott is the jewel in the crown and was a significant factor in securing Wolves' slightly fortunate point at Vicarage Road in November. He has been partnered by Paul Butler, who recovered from bruised ribs sustained during the week to start the win at Preston at the weekend. Mark Clyde, who also played in the Vicarage Road game, is an alternative and one-time favourite Ludovic Pollet is also still around, although he spent some time on loan at Walsall earlier in the season.

In midfield, Paul Ince and Colin Cameron form an experienced core... Ince, now thirty-five, picked up a booking at Preston that will rule him out of Wolves' cup Quarter-Final at Southampton. Cameron, meanwhile, took a kick to the foot that saw him leave Saturday's game before half time, so he's presumably a doubt for Tuesday evening. Most likely replacement appears to be Keith Andrews, who replaced him at the weekend, unless Alex Rae moves in from the right opening this flank to the inconsistent Shaun Newton. Mark Kennedy, who wows with his skill and frustrates with his attitude in equal measure, will play down the left. Kevin Cooper, whose late deflected shot earned Wolves a point at Vicarage Road, hasn't made the starting eleven since Boxing Day.

Up front, George Ndah and Kenny Miller have formed a prolific partnership in recent games. Ndah, persistently troubled by dodgy hamstrings, scored a fine solo goal at Preston and enjoys running at defences if he gets the opportunity. Miller, about who the jury was very much out until recently, has now hit nine in seven games, the last coming in front of national coach Berti Vogts at Deepdale. Adam Proudlock has made a couple of effective contributions coming off the bench in recent games, a bench that has also featured Dean Sturridge, unable to break up the front two since his return from injury. Nathan Blake is also close to a return having ruptured ligaments in his foot in November.

Wolves have won their last three games, but that this mini-run was preceded by a 4-1 collapse at Brighton suggests that their form is not unshakeable. This is a hugely significant game - arguably more so for us than for Wolves - and it could be easier. The division has been playing musical chairs with the play-off places for months, and we can't allow Wolves to pull further away if we are to continue to entertain play-off ambitions. We have a glut of home games to come in March, but this one could be the difference between going into those games right in the mix-up, or with merely an outside chance of finishing in the top six.