After the international break, in which Kevin Doyle and Algerian Adlene Guedioura hit the headlines with stunning long-range goals, Wolves restart their Premier League campaign with a trip to Fulham whose impressive home record is well publicised. Last season the Whites won 11 games at Craven Cottage, only three less than Champions League qualifiers Spurs, and this included victories against Manchester United and Liverpool. This is likely to be Mick McCarthy’s side’s biggest challenge so far but the task might not be quite as daunting as it seems on paper.
Mark Hughes’s team are struggling injury-wise and the two players who could have caused Wolves the most problems, Bobby Zamora and tricky winger Damien Duff, are doubts for the game. The Whites are also facing changes at the back with first choice goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer struggling for fitness and with the Wolves team pretty much in a clean bill of health, with the exception of Ronald Zubar and the long term casualties, one might fancy them to be more clinical and get a victory, particularly considering that they managed 4 points against Fulham last year.
True, the 0-0 at the Cottage came towards the end of the season when Fulham had their Europa League semi-final against Hamburg a few days later, but Wolves already look a better side this time round and they also have more attacking options. There’s been the usual pre-match debates about whether Mick should opt for his favoured 4-4-2 formation or revert to a more defensive approach. It seems pretty certain that the Irishman will opt to keep two up front and although some fans might fear the team will be outmuscled in midfield again, there may be more to Mick’s decision than just wanting to accommodate Sylvan Ebanks-Blake in the first XI.
The statistics from last season also show that the Whites only managed 27 goals at home, and while this may have been far superior to the Black Country side’s own tally, Fulham’s main asset was in fact their miserly defence which conceded just 15 times. If Schwarzer and Zamora miss out, then a more attack-minded formation could hurt Fulham. They are also likely to be lining up in a traditional 4-4-2 so McCarthy’s side will not have to face a bruising five-man midfield, and with Wolves strike force looking far more threatening than what Fulham have to offer, it could be a good idea to utilise this and try and get all three points. The last two games at the Cottage between the sides have ended 0-0 and whilst a draw away from home is always a good result, when the opposition could be without three of their best players, it’s definitely worth the risk of playing a bit more offensive. Attacking prowess could be key and this may be reflected in McCarthy’s team selection tomorrow.
One player who could have a big say in this fixture is Kevin Doyle. The Irishman will have returned to Molineux buzzing with confidence after an impressive international week in which he helped guide his country to maximum points. His fantastic 25-yard left footed strike, which curled beautifully into the top corner of the Andorra net, capped off a man-of-the-match performance and although Doyle may not have hit top form for Wolves yet, his sharpness is clearly returning. Fans will be hoping to see the striker try a few more efforts like the one against Andorra but perhaps what was most impressive was his overall play. He looked pacy, strong and, particularly against Armenia, was great in the air, winning almost every ball against their menacing centre-backs. His ability and work-rate have been recognised this week and goalkeeper Shay Given lavished praise on his teammate, declaring: “ He’s the ultimate team player. People should recognise him as one of the best strikers in the Premier League. For us, he is invaluable.”
Steven Fletcher should be set to return to the Wolves bench on Saturday and he could be joined by new recruit Marcus Bent. The loan signing from Birmingham has been greeted with a mixed reaction from fans with many wondering why the club opted to recruit someone who has had such a poor goalscoring record in recent seasons. The striker has not scored in the Premier League since the 2007/2008 campaign and also failed to hit the back of the net during two brief loan spells at Championship sides Queens Park Rangers and Middlesbrough. Despite claims that the club should have just kept Andy Keogh, Mick McCarthy has faith in Bent and defended him, arguing: “He’s big, quick and powerful and I remember when he played against us here with Cameron Jerome, he didn’t half rough us up.
“He caused us problems by his presence – all the qualities he has are what defenders don’t like playing against. Whenever he’s played against any of my teams he’s been a real handful.”
Although some fans have suggested that the likes of Sam Winnall should have been given a chance instead, it is always difficult to do that when you’re fighting in the bottom half of the table as younger players can take a while to settle and compose themselves at this level. Bent’s recent record may not be encouraging but McCarthy did point out that he suffered from hamstring problems last season. The former England Under-21 star has got 44 Premier League goals, something which none of the current attacking line up can yet boast. As the loan is only until January, there is nothing to lose and if he’s needed, then he certainly deserves a chance.