“Reid, Reid will tear you apart again” was the chant from the huge City travelling support on Tuesday night, as Kyel Reid put in one his most impressive performances in a claret and amber shirt. Indeed, the team, as a whole, were impressive against Preston, and such performances must be replicated at home to Wolves in order to beat them. As I will explain later, Wolves have a squad many teams in the Championship would envy, and thus Saturday will be a tough task.
City, with a squad that remains more or less the same from last year’s heroics, are just two places behind Wolves so far this season. Recent criticism of Parkinson (albeit from a minority of fans) is unnecessary and perhaps premature, given the superb start to the season. Two defeats in a row is hardly a “rot” in form, as defeats occur to even the best of teams. Should City lose to Wolves, I think such criticism would still be harsh, as Wolves are a very, very strong side, and City still maintain a strong position in the league.
Focusing on City’s squad, and the loss of both Andrew Davies and Nahki Wells appears to have somewhat affected the team. City went over 200 minutes without scoring until James Hanson’s header broke the deadlock on Tuesday night. There are options in the squad to cover for Wells, with Garry Thompson, Mark Yeates, Caleb Folan and Alan Connell all in contention to partner Hanson.
It can only be a positive sign that Hanson appears to have come into form at just the right time, scoring 5 goals in his last 8 games, just when the team need him to come up with crucial goals, like his opener on Tuesday night. For a striker who has averaged one goal every four games since his arrival some four years ago, such current form is encouraging, and he has certainly appeared to have won over the fans that criticised him. Hanson’s overall game, with his strength and ability to consistently win headers, compliments Wells’ game and abilities perfectly. However, the likes of Folan and Connell play differently to Wells, and therefore City’s style of play must be adapted in the absence of the Bermudan.
The rest of the team seems reasonably settled. Parkinson will stick with Jon McLaughlin in net, and is likely to retain the same back four of Stephen Darby, Matthew Bates, Rory McArdle and James Meredith. Kyel Reid will almost certainly start on the left flank, with Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle patrolling the centre of midfield. Depending on who Parkinson starts in attack, Raffaele De Vita or Garry Thompson could occupy the right wing, with a number of options to partner Hanson in attack. Personally, I would choose Mark Yeates. His trickery and ability to run with the ball is a great asset for any team, and combined with the form of Kyel Reid, could be a lethal partnership.
As for Wolves, “parachute payments” from the Premier League means that they receive £16 million from this source of income alone. Add to this season ticket sales (Molineux holds 30,000, and Wolves still achieve attendances of 18-19,000), and sponsorship, and Wolves potentially have a budget that allows them to have a great deal of depth and quality in their squad. Football League rules dictate that a team can only spend 60% of its income this season on wages, so whilst Wolves can spend up to £10 million on wages, City cannot spend last season’s windfall from the League Cup on wages, and instead can only rely on season ticket sales and sponsorship money.
The gulf in squads, therefore, is big. For their last game at home to Oldham (which they won 2-0), Kevin Doyle (over 50 caps for Ireland, played at Euro 2012, signed for £6.5 million) was on the bench. With such quality at their disposal, Kenny Jackett has several selection dilemmas. However, there are a couple of players crucial to Wolves so far, who will definitely start. One of this is left midfielder Bakary Sako, who has been linked with a host of Premiership clubs. Sako’s pace and dribbling ability is remarkably similar to Kyel Reid’s ability, and Stephen Darby will have to be on top form to keep Sako quiet.
Striker Leigh Griffiths, has also been in fine form this season. The Scotland international scored 28 goals on loan at Hibernian last season, and was named SPL Player of the Year. Having scored 9 goals in 12 league games so far this season, Griffiths will also need to be tightly marked.
With 13 points out of a possible 15 taken from away games this season, and one defeat in their last twelve league games, and with players like Sako and Griffiths in such fine form, Wolves will be a tough task.
However, this may work in City’s favour. Being the underdog has suited City recently (remember Arsenal, Aston Villa, Wigan from last season’s League Cup miracle), and the pressure will surely be on Wolves to perform and come away with all three points. This current squad of City players are mentally strong, and will fight for every ball, be strong in the tackle, and give their all, even if the odds are stacked against them.
If they do that, then Bradford may be in for a surprise, come 5pm on Saturday.