Wolverhampton Wanderers made an excellent start to the new Premier League season on Saturday with a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers. With more than two weeks left in the transfer window, there is still time for manager Mick McCarthy to build on that fine opening with the addition of some new faces.
Dorus de Vries, Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara have arrived at Molineux already – with Marcus Hahnemann, Greg Halford and David Jones the headline departures – but McCarthy has been strongly linked with a move for former West Ham United midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger and, before the Tottenham Hotspur striker was on the verge of a move to Los Angeles Galaxy, a loan swoop for former Wolves star Robbie Keane. With Keane seemingly about to begin life across the Atlantic Ocean, if McCarthy does desire another striker, he will have to look elsewhere, although the dearth of forwards linked to the club suggests Keane was more a media-prescribed link on the basis of nostalgia and little more.
Wolves’ first game of the season offered little indication for where McCarthy still needs to strengthen. Wanderers showed impressive resilience to come back from a goal down – and a missed penalty – away from home and last season’s top scorer Steven Fletcher carried his good form into the new season with the first-half equaliser. The performance of new captain Johnson, in a centre-back partnership with Christophe Berra, was encouraging, and indicated why McCarthy was willing to hand Birmingham City a sum reported by the Wolverhampton
O’Hara’s influence in a Wolves shirt has already been seen last season. The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder, who joined Wolves on loan in January and completed a permanent move this summer, netted a vital goal against West Bromwich Albion in only his fourth appearance and found the net twice more to help his new club avoid the drop, adding an assist to his tally too. By either creating or scoring four goals O’Hara made a vital contribution to a side that managed only 46 goals all season, and a full year of the midfielder’s talents – injury permitting, after a chronic back injury plagued the player’s recent past – should reap similar, maybe even greater, dividends.
The additions Wolves have made so far are archetypal McCarthy signings. O’Hara, an industrious midfielder with more than a little technical class, and Johnson, a commanding, no-nonsense centre-back and expert timer of a tackle, will suit the atmosphere and culture at Wolves to the ground. The former Republic of Ireland manager has been quietly building a side capable of harrying and harassing in the manner expected of a relegation struggler, but with extra threat in key areas when compared to some of their rivals. If McCarthy can add to their ranks before the close of the transfer window – with left-back still a position requiring attention – the Midlands side could start to think a little higher than simply avoiding relegation.
Stephen Ward started against Blackburn in the left-back slot but the Ireland international is a utility player, decent in a number of positions – not only left-back, but midfield and attack too – without excelling in any. Ward’s dedication does however endear him to the Wolves support, and even if a natural full-back arrived to compete with George Elokobi, Ward would continue to be part of McCarthy’s plans. That the rumour mill has slowed somewhat regarding Wolves’ pursuit of a left-back suggests McCarthy will make do with what he has already got, unless a new target becomes available before the end of the month.
With a squad gradually growing in quality season-by-season, including the hard-working front pair of Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher and a selection of talented wingers, particularly England international Matt Jarvis, Wolves are well-positioned to move forward in the future. Another smart transfer or two from McCarthy before the close of the window could speed up that process and, after a winning start to the new Premier League season, give Wolves a greater platform on which to continue their smart building work.
Dorus de Vries GK – Swansea City, free
Roger Johnson DEF – Birmingham City, undisclosed
Jamie O’Hara MID – Tottenham Hotspur, £5m
Marcus Hahnemann, GK – released
Carl Ikeme, GK – Middlesbrough, loan
Greg Halford, DEF – Portsmouth, free
David Jones MID – Wigan Athletic, free
Thomas Hitzlsperger MID – free