Club Focus – Wolverhampton Wanderers – Work not over yet

Wolves are within touching distance of Premier League survival, but they will face a tough test at Craven Cottage on Saturday despite claims that Fulham will have their minds on the Europa League semi-finals.

Mick McCarthy’s men will be well aware that Fulham are a lot better than their position of 12th in the league suggests. The west London club have surprised a lot of people with their run in the Europa League by reaching the semi-finals. Many may argue that the Cottagers’ minds will be on their trip to Germany when they meet Hamburg SV on April 22, but Wolves defender Ronald Zubar believes Fulham’s players are fully committed to their Premier League fixture at the weekend.

Although Fulham manager Roy Hodgson will probably tinker with his side to preserve some of his players for Thursday, Zubar says that it does not matter what team the Whites will field as they will be fighting for three points and are buoyed by home advantage. Fulham boast an impressive home record this season as they have only lost four league games games played there so far. They also impressively handed out 3-0 and 4-1 drubbings respectively to Manchester United and Juventus, which is why Zubar remains wary. The 24-year-old argued: “Fulham are playing us at home, where they’re very strong and as they’re playing well, they’ll be on the front foot. I think to have the confidence they need against Hamburg, it’s best if they go there with a win, so they’ll be fully committed to beating Wolves.” Zubar also suggests that all remaining fixtures are important for both clubs and players, especially players who have World Cup ambitions such as Bobby Zamora and Clint Dempsey: “The players want to play – Zamora has a chance of playing in the World Cup so he needs to play, and Clint Dempsey is the same.”

The Wanderers were handed an extra boost ahead of the weekend’s games after learning that relegation rivals Wigan had managed just a point against Portsmouth in a dull encounter a the DW Stadium on Wednesday night. Avram Grant made eight changes to the Portsmouth side that performed heroics on Sunday to reach the FA Cup final and was three substitutes short of a full complement on the night, which have raised eyebrows as the other teams fighting at the foot of the table would not have been very happy with what they initially saw. To raise such suspicions would only have been fair because Wolves’ manager McCarthy was slapped with a ridiculous £25 000 fine when he made 10 changes to his side when they played Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Everybody feels sorry for Portsmouth’s financial plight, but they would have been entitled to question Grant’s selection. In the end the Fratton Park chief got lucky as his side miraculously ground out a result, which keeps Wigan down in 16th place.

A lot has been spoken about the versatile defender Michael Mancienne and his impressive performances of late, but there is another versatile defender who soon hopes to earn more first XI opportunities. Richard Stearman insists he is “biding my time” in an attempt to win back his first team standing. The young defender was on target for Wolves reserves on Tuesday night and scored the final goal in a 4-1 beating of West Ham’s second-string. The young defender made an impressive start to the season and played the majority of Wolves’ games in the first half of the season as right-back, but has not played in a league fixture since his sending off against the Latics in January.

Zubar has performed tremendously in the right-back position for Wolves since then and Stearman will have a tough task on his hands if he wants to reclaim his place. The 22-year-old admits that he feels like he has been sidelined and forgotten about, but realises it is up to him to earn first team chances. The defender believes he can put his name out there if he can continue to impress in training and reserve matches. After Tuesday night’s game he said: “I feel like the forgotten man at the moment but it was good to get a run out to keep the fitness up. It’s just about biding my time and waiting for my chance and grabbing a goal puts my name out there.”

Wolves have worked hard recently and have made progress in their fight for survival, but they are remaining wary as they realise there is still a lot of work to be done.

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