So, here we go again. A new season is underway and so are our struggles away from Craven Cottage. Any thought of a new era on the road with Martin Jol in charge disappeared within the first 45 minutes at Molineux. Surely, things could have been different. If Damien Duff had found the back of the net instead of the hands of Wayne Hennessey could we have seen a different display, but lack of concentration and discipline, maybe caused by the 3-0 triumph over Dnipro on Thursday night, gave Wolves just the game they wanted. However, here are some thoughts from, presumably, the only Swede who went to Wolverhampton.
Even if Mark Hughes wasn’t a favourite of mine, I did appreciate the braveness he instilled in the players ahead of away games. It resulted in a level of adventure that we never really saw under Hodgson and Jol’s task is to try and maintain that. Nevertheless, the display this Sunday neither gave us proof of a daring Fulham that were attacking as under Hughes last season but neither that we defended like a Hodgson side either. It was just a passivity that didn’t give us the time, space or the chances we needed. Although it was a hungry home side we played, we kept giving the ball away even when there were no pressure. In my opinion, that’s where we lost the game. Our poor distribution made us chase ghosts for most of the game and the few actual times we really got into them, largely thanks to Steve Sidwell in the second half, we were quick to give the ball away again.
Furthermore, there are questions over the tactics and team selection. Jol shouldn’t have started Kasami, his performance yesterday was a big blow for those of us who believe he could be the next big thing. Just let us hope that the 19 year old has his head rightly screwed on and can bounce back from his first taste of the Premier League football to shine in Europe on Thursday. In a game like this it was clear how much experience is needed and I felt we missed Davies almost as much as we missed Zamora. Duff and Davies are hard workers that very seldom put a foot wrong defensively, which was clearly shown on our first successful away game last season at the Britannia. Now Aaron Hughes didn’t get the support he needed to assert himself against the excellent Matt Jarvis, who did whatever he wanted down Wolves’ left wing.
Jol has a dilemma regarding his new back four. It is brave to separate on Hughes and Hangeland, a combination which has been one of the league’s finest centre defenses the last three seasons. I think I can see what the Dutchman has in mind with Riise adopting a more attacking role when we’ve got possession but at Molineux the Norwegian just looked out of position whether he was on the attack or at the back even if Hangeland, Senderos and Hughes formed a back three when we were in possession. Wolves executed their game plan perfectly by letting Jarvis time after time go past Hughes and get a cross in. The Northern Ireland captain had a tough afternoon at Molineux and it didn’t help that Kasami struggled even more when trying to assist. For me, Hughes lacks the pace and timing of the challenge to be an effective full-back. He’s absolutely excellent in the centre, but it’s not only Jarvis he’s gonna have problem with this season. I say bring back Chrissy Baird, who might be on his way out from the club or as far down in Jol’s freezer that you’ll probably need to defrost him before he can play again. He’s not the one with the most pace, but perfect timing and positioning which fullbacks need.
Well, the season has started and so has the excitement. For the players two tough journeys as well as games awaits when the place in the Europa League should be secured in Ukraine on Thursday followed by the longest away trip in the Premier League for in-form Newcastle on Sunday. I’m not really looking forward to the six hour coach journey to get there, but if the performance is as bad as against Wolves I doubt the journey home will be much more fun.