Ahead of Saturday’s opener against Stoke, A Different League asked the opinions of BBC 5 Live’s Perry Groves, Pat Nevin and Jimmy Armfield about Wolves summer spending and their chances for the season. Groves was rather cautious about the side’s prospects for 2010/2011, stating: “Wolves will be one of those teams in the bottom six or seven who will be battling against relegation.” Much of this prediction was based on the club’s poor home form from last season and he declared it crucial that the side find someone to increase their goal tally: “Kevin Doyle was great last year but they need to get another goalscorer.” The former Arsenal star did give praise to Mick McCarthy’s new signings and in particular, pointed to the work rate of fellow left-winger Stephen Hunt: “He is one of those players that when he’s in the opposition team you can’t stand him. He gives them good balance up and down the left hand side.”
Nevin chose to buck the current media trend of tipping Wolves for the drop, and admitted that he has been so impressed by Mick’s summer choices. Declaring that the side would be “absolutely safe,” he also issued his belief that: “Wolves have spent the best of any Premier League club by some distance. I feared for them in the past but he’s [McCarthy] strengthened intelligently but sensibly. I think he’s bought incredibly well.” One particularly controversial topic was the club’s £7m signing Steven Fletcher. Armfield admitted his felt the Scotsman had yet to prove himself in the top division, whilst compatriot Nevin called him a striker that “I like a lot.”
By 5pm on Saturday, however, it appeared that Nevin’s belief in the Black Country team was well founded. Although there were some nervous moments towards the end of their 2-1 victory over Stoke, Wolves managed to hang on after an impressive first half display had seen David Jones score a stunning free kick and Fletcher bundle in from close range. It was the club’s first opening day win in 11 years and perhaps more importantly, with the game played at home, McCarthy will be hoping that they can use this as a base to banish their Molineux woes. Critics may point to the fact that Wolves failed to pick up a single point against the Premier League’s top three last year but it is games like this which will prove more crucial in the long run. Whilst Stoke were weakened by the early loss of new signing Kenwyn Jones, Wolves were able to counter their physical game with some slick football and the new 4-4-2 formation showed real promise during the first 45 minutes.
Former Burnley man Fletcher proved troublesome for the towering Potters defence and although, he only lasted half the game after a foot injury forced him off, he already had the crowd believing he could be a real star for their team. With some impressive touches, the pacy Scottish International injected class into the Wolves line up. Without him in the last 41 mins, however, the side looked less creative and with the extent of his injury then unknown, there was a fear that Wolves’ good start to the season could already be hindered.
Saturday proved mixed fortunes for the Wolves strike force and many fans are suggesting that Andy Keogh played his last game for the club. Coming on as a replacement for the lively Fletcher, the Irishman’s performance was the complete opposite. Lackluster and timid, Keogh appeared uncomfortable, and at times unhappy to be on the pitch. Admittedly, he has been on the end of some harsh stick from a section of the Wolves faithful and with McCarthy revealing he is ready to sell the striker, his incentive to play for the club might not be the strongest. Saturday was an opportunity for the 24-year-old to showcase what he has to offer to other clubs. However, almost gifting Stoke a great goalscoring opportunity on the edge of his own area and being subbed off before the game had finished will not have teams rushing to pay the £2.5m transfer fee Wolves are looking for.
Keogh seems best suited to Championship level football and another player who was given this tag last season was Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. His reaction to criticism, however, was different to the Irishman’s and his pre-season words about his fitness and ambition were put into action against Stoke. Blake seemed to feed really well of Fletcher and although he faded slightly in the second half, he worked hard throughout the game, was energetic and held up the ball well. Football fans appreciate a player who tries hard, regardless of his ability, and this appears to be one of the main differences between Blake and Keogh.
Calls for the club to sign a new striker began shortly after the final whistle. Fans want someone physical and a loan deal for Manchester United’s Kiko Macheda was a major suggestion. This, however, might be a little hasty. Fletcher brought out the best in Blake and with Doyle due back from injury shortly, Wolves have three forwards who will link up well and cause problems. What fans are hoping for is someone like Keogh who is happy to warm the bench and who can score more goals than the Irishman but that is probably wishful thinking.