There was a time before Nuno, Neves and next-generation talent at Molineux. We had a Scottish manager, a bloated squad and an ownership with a point to prove. Many called for Lambert to be persisted with last summer – but what exactly would have happened if we did?
Wolves headed into a critical transfer window with a bloated squad, hefty wage bill and a number of failed transfers. Paul Lambert set about trimming his squad and he couldn’t believe his luck when Fiorentina came in with a £5m bid for Romain Saiss, who had struggled to cement a first team place ahead of the likes of Lee Evans and Jack Price. Nouha Dicko was moved on to Hull City to create space for a striker, with a lack of goals a real concern from the previous season.
Paul Gladon, Jordan Graham, Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Jed Wallace were next to be culled, but Mike Williamson and Silvio were both retained. “Mike’s got so much experience at this level, it’s a no-brainer and I saw enough in Silvio in the last few months of the season to suggest he can solve the left-back problem,” enthused Lambert. Both players were promptly ruled out for indefinite periods with mysterious injuries that seemingly nobody at the club could diagnose. The devastating news that Carl Ikeme was diagnosed with Leukaemia meant Andy Lonergan was also retained. “He’s another proven Championship-level goalkeeper.”
In an amazing U-turn, Prince Oniangue was offered an olive branch, despite being frozen out by Lambert for the second part of the previous season: “He’s got the physical presence to thrive in this league and it’s a long-old grind, so we’ll need the bodies.” He still finds himself behind club legend and now club captain Dave Edwards though.
Loans were made permanent with Andi Weimann and Richard Stearman signing and incomings were limited to Grant Hanley and Jordan Hugill, who will compete with Jon Dadi Bodvarsson up front. “People won’t like playing against us with either of those up front.”
With the left-back position still a problem, Lambert decided to take some inspiration from the best coach in the country. “I’ve been around Europe, observing some of the best coaches in the world in action. Pep Guardiola managed to turn Fabian Delph into a left-back and he knows what he’s talking about. George Saville should have no trouble slotting in there.” Adama Traore duly had a field day in the opening game of the season with Middlesbrough running out 3-1 winners, Dave Edwards grabbing our consolation.
A tough start with 3 hotly-tipped teams in succession left us with 1 point from our first three, but we finally broke the duck against Neil Warnock’s Cardiff, with Danny Batth powering in a late header from a Ben Marshall corner. The promotion charge was up and running. Three wins from the next four got pulses racing, but it all came to an abrupt halt when lowly Barnsley held out for a 1-0 win at Molineux, with Jordan Hugill still to get off the mark for the season. Creativity was an issue with Helder Costa out injured and Weimann and Marshall manning the flanks. This prompted a downturn in form, losing to Sheffield United and Burton prior to the titanic clash with Aston Villa.
An injury to Weimann meant the little-seen Ivan Cavaleiro was afforded a starting place and he duly delivered, creating two goals for Hugill and scoring one himself as Wolves secured a famous 3-1 victory. Naturally, Lambert replaced Hugill with Bodvarsson, despite him being on a hat-trick. “I just love that Icelandic Clap, it really gets the stadium bouncing.” Rumour had it Bodvarsson would have been sold, had it not been for the Clap.
The moment many fans had been waiting for had come as Helder Costa made his return in the next fixture. It was at the expense of Cavaleiro however. “Helder’s a bit of a luxury player and I just think Ben Marshall on the opposite flank offers us a bit more defensively than Cavaleiro. It’s all about balance really.” Wolves promptly drew a blank in a drab 0-0 with Preston.
The November curse had afflicted Wolves for a number of seasons, but they managed to exorcise this demon at the first attempt, picking up a customary home win versus Fulham. This set the tone for a successful month, with three more victories before they visited a resurgent Birmingham City. Led by Harry Redknapp to the summit of the Championship, with Jota driving the team forward having struck up a good relationship with little-known Brazilian striker Leo Bonatini, who had joined on loan from Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal in the summer. “He’s t’riffic I tell ya. I couldn’t have dreamed he’d settle in so easily, but he’s taken to it like a Brazilian to a Caipirinha. Don’t ask me how to spell it, I can barely spell my own name.” said Harry. Bonatini duly scored the only goal of the game to leave Blues flying high and Wolves floundering. “They’ve invested a lot in the summer and now you’re seeing the results. It’s what happens when you get the right backing.”
Something about the result stirred Wolves into action though and a successful Christmas period, with Connor Ronan beginning to dictate deep in midfield and Costa beginning to look like his old self, left Wolves comfortably in the play-off picture. Wolves only dropped points in one of their next 6 games, inevitably against Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town, with former Wolves man Jordan Graham having a hand in two goals. The ex-player curse striking again.
The January transfer window presented the opportunity to cut loose any fat off the squad and give it the boost needed to edge closer to the automatic places. Kortney Hause was sent out on loan for extra game-time to divisional rivals Sheffield Wednesday, who were riding high on a wave of goals from Steven Fletcher. “Kortney can be anything he wants to be, but with Stears, Danny, Grant Hanley and Mike Williamson coming back to fitness, it just doesn’t look like he will get a look-in here.” noted Lambert. Williamson duly came back to fitness, only to be stretchered off with a broken something-or-other in the game against Nottingham Forest. In search of more firepower, Gary Madine was recruited from Bolton, having scored 10 goals in the first half of the season to lift the Other Wanderers to 22nd in the table. £6.5m was the price and Madine pipped Lambert’s other target Leon Clarke through the Molineux entrance.
Prince Oniangue was yet to make an appearance in the league and departed for Rennes on loan for the rest of the season, while Ivan Cavaleiro was growing increasingly frustrated at his lack of game time. Wolves had an indifferent January, beating Barnsley, drawing at home to Nottingham Forest and losing away at Ipswich – Big Mick again. The deadline was looming and Cavaleiro was sent on loan to Premier League Brighton. Helder Costa, incensed at the treatment and departure of his best friend, slapped in a transfer request on deadline day. Leicester City obliged with a £20m offer (rumour has it that Laurie Dalrymple told Costa that Leicester was a small town on the South Coast) and Wolves were left with a few hours to replace their star man. In came Bobby Reid from Bristol City at a cost of £12m. Benik Afobe was also brought in on a £1m loan deal till the end of the season. It went some way to filling the void left by Costa.
While it was a blow to lose Costa, Wolves were still on the edge of the play-offs. Hope springs eternal and Lambert still had some credit in the bank with fans for improved performance. “I have a ready-made squad for this league and we’re going to make a real assault on the table from here on in.” A goal on debut for Afobe was the ideal start, but Andy Lonergan then made two mistakes to concede goals versus Sheffield United on the sky cameras, with Leon Clarke bagging the winner.
With a wealth of striking options at his disposal, including Hugill, Madine, Bodvarsson, Afobe and Reid, Afobe was moved to right-wing, with Reid on the left now and Madine, Bodvarsson (still on 1 goal) and Hugill rotating up front. “It’s a long season. Rotation is necessary.” The George Saville experiment had long since been abandoned and he was returned to his natural station in midfield with Ronan sacrificed. “We’re a bit top=heavy with the forwards so I just thought having Saville’s extra bite in midfield would be beneficial. Connor’s not done anything wrong. It’s just a needs-must situation.”
A horrible 8-game winless run left Wolves season hanging by a thread, 9 points off the play-offs in 10th position with 5 games to go. Wolves needed something special. It just so happened to be Dave Edwards’ testimonial year, so Lambert thought up a cunning plan. It was announced that Wolves would play Shrewsbury Town three days prior to Wolves’ crunch clash with Middlesbrough. “We’re lacking in a bit of confidence at the moment and hopefully this gives the guys a boost. They love Dave and it’ll give the crowd a lift too.” 7, 385 witness Wolves beat Shrewsbury 5-0, with Edwards scoring all 5 and even donning the gloves to save a Shrewsbury penalty. “He likes to take responsibility. He’s a consummate pro and a really reliable character. That’s why he’s Captain.”
Wolves went into the clash against 6th placed Middlesbrough with the following line-up:
Lonergan; Iorfa, Batth, Hanley, Doherty; Evans, Saville; Afobe, Edwards, Reid; Bodvatsson.
“If we can get the Clap going, we could be in business.” Amazingly, Wolves took a first minute lead, a piledriver from Doherty palmed straight out to Bodvatsson who quite literally could not miss. A second goal of the season for the iceman and how crucial it could be. Sadly, Wolves couldn’t press home their advantage. With Edwards going AWOL, Saville and Evans were exposed and Jonny Howson pulled the strings for Britt Assombalonga and Patrick Bamford to fire the Teesiders to victory. All hope was gone. Mathematically, it was still on, but the stuffing had been knocked out of the club. They failed to win a game for the rest of the season, finishing 13th.
This was the final straw for Lambert. He pleaded with the board for more time. “I’m still the right man for this job. Nobody knows these players better than I do. I’ve got what it takes. And if I don’t know some of them that well, I can always sign Ashley Westwood, Grant Holt and Russell Martin.” This was the final nail in the Lambert coffin.
And so ended another failed attempt to escape the Championship. Dave Edwards top scored with 12 goals – none of them came in victories. What next for Wolves and floundering Fosun? It’s clear they came ill-prepared for the challenges they would face in the Championship. Will they cut their losses and give up the ghost? Will they turn again to foreign players and management in an attempt to get out of the rut. One thing I do know: the fans deserve better.
Dave Edwards swept the board at the End of Season Awards
This is of course a parody of all the characters involved and is in no way meant to offend, but merely to entertain and highlight the stark difference between Wolves a year ago and what might have been and the Wolves we see now. Plus it’s a pretty funny thing to think about.