Old Gold Rolled




Wolverhampton has given the world Caitlin Moran, Kevin Rowland, Slade, Nigel Slater and one sixth of Monty Python (by adoption) as well as a storied, if occasionally very troubled, football club. Despite a reputation for industrial grime (and post industrial despair), its alumni reflects rather well.

Original founders of the Football League, the Black Country outfit dominated the 1950s and the town had a glamour bestowed upon it through the coupling of Billy Wright and one of the Beverly Sisters it had neither before nor since. Pioneers of floodlights and European football, it is a club steeped in history and fame and admirable to all but their nearest neighbours.
It is a little mysterious, then, that over the past few years, there has developed a spiky relationship between supporters of Town and Wolves which may have its roots in the former’s remarkable record of success in clashes dating back to the late 90s and exacerbated by a recent goal celebration of Rajiv Van La Parra and further stoked by a provocative answer to a local paper’s question of a Town supporter which didn’t produce the expected sycophancy, in an article leading up to this first top flight clash since the 70s.
Wolves’ transformation from sleeping, often comatose, giant in to the supposed best ever promoted club from the Championship has not been without controversy and the links between their Chinese owners and the super agent Jorge Mendes remains under investigation; but on the basis of innocent until proven guilty, it is a little churlish not to admire the style of play introduced by Nuno Santo, his travelling Portuguese minstrels and Conor Coady.
Their blistering start to the season, including an excellent performance which applied a brief brake on Manchester City’s slave state sponsored stroll to the title, has rather come up against the realities of the Premier League where world class coaches, even if not blessed with the best players, can nullify the newly promoted clubs enthusiasm and wide eyed exuberance in pretty short order. Before the international break, however, Wolves should have beaten an in form Arsenal at the Emirates with only bad luck and maybe a little composure preventing a famous victory.
Quietly, Huddersfield Town have been rebuilding their season which garnered just 3 points from a possible 30. In many of the games, the performances were probably deserving of more reward and rather plagued by poor fortune, but a belated first win and a good point against West Ham suggested that survival was not as forlorn a hope as many outsiders had concluded.
Increasingly well organised, tenacious and threatening, the Terriers have rediscovered the spirit so essential to their fortunes as they try to overcome the inherent and inevitable disadvantages they face in a brutal competition. The attritional style which accumulated enough points to stay in the division last season is evolving back to David Wagner’s principles which he had to pragmatically abandon too often to survive.
Eschewing traditional wingers – despite investing in 3 new ones in the summer – Town now flood midfield in front of a back 3 and the flexibility of the formation (Pritchard augments the midfield when not in possession) proved hugely successful against a Wolves team which needs space and fluency to unleash skill and pace.
The full house at Molineux contrasted starkly to the last time these two met – the night Town confirmed their play off place during a spell which seemed to have the single objective of avoiding Fulham. An inexplicably small away following shared a less than half full stadium with seriously disgruntled, barely interested Yam yams to witness a dismal affair rescued only by its portentousness for the visitors. And this time, there were fireworks.
The key to success against a team as swift and free flowing as Wolves had shown themselves to be, is to interrupt the rhythm and stem the creativity. Though far from alone in this responsibility, the midfield triumvirate of Hogg, Billing and Mooy were the principal actors in the plan to stifle and suffocate Wolves’ flair – a plan which was easy to devise but significantly more difficult to implement.
All 3, helped by the hard work of both Pritchard and the impressive Mounié (who looks far more engaged than at any time during his career at Town), produced almost perfect performances. Hogg’s controlled aggression, reading of the game and driving leadership complimented Mooy’s unhurried mastery of every situation he found himself in and Billing’s graceful elegance which has blossomed and matured immensely this season.
With Durm’s assured wingback play providing a safe outlet and defensive nous – on the other side, Hadergjonaj improved on his form so far this season and looked a little more assured – Tommy Smith proving to be a reliable replacement for the suspended Zanka (particularly as a fairly early yellow card could have hampered him) and Schindler and Kongolo holding firm, the whole team provided a compelling, united and cogent display which enveloped Wolves from the start.
An easily repelled early assault on the visitors’ territory was just the prelude for a nigh perfect first half for the Terriers, let down only by a failure to put the home side to the sword – few of the old gold persuasion could have complained if their possibly under estimated opponents had racked up an unassailable lead by half time.
As it was, the sides were only separated by a sublime strike from Mooy who guided an excellent pull back by Durm – himself released by a deft Billing pass – in to the corner of the net. Billing had capitalised on an error in the middle of the park, coolly swapped passes with Durm to get further forward and was then allowed the type of time and space of which Wolves’ more celebrated midfielders could dream.
Neves, an exceptional talent, and the equally lauded Moutinho were systematically shackled from that point on. Strangling Wolves’ supply at source with aggression, intensity and persistence had a debilitating effect on the team as a whole and a litany of errors, forced and unforced, handed the visitors complete control.
For much of the half, the joy was mainly to admire Town’s vice grip on the hosts. Supremely disciplined, Smith’s transgression aside, the sustained and intensive pressing suffocated Wolves and emasculated them to such an extent that the away following, for the time being at least, could feel relatively comfortable.
Towards the end of the half, Mounié’s power in the air threatened to deservedly extend the lead but his first attempt found Patrício’s well positioned arms while his second was blocked when he had done everything right. Kongolo had a header easily saved and a couple of speculative efforts from Billing and Mounié emphasised the Terriers’ complete dominance of affairs.
While the home side suffered some boos as they slunk off – perhaps suggesting that the home support needs to readjust their expectations – Town fans could only be delighted at the delivery of a tactical masterclass.
Not unexpectedly, Nuno Espírito Santo – a name which makes anyone with a Catholic background start a response – made changes at half time with the overwhelmed Moutinho and anonymous Cavaleiro making way for Traore and Gibbs-White, and Wolves improved a little and to the extent that they finally looked more threatening.
A good cross from the muscular and speedy Traore found Jiménez at the back post. The Mexican outmuscled Hadergjonaj, possibly illegally, at the back post and headed past Lössl for what appeared to be a certain equaliser only for Billing, the Danish Inspector Gadget, to extend his legs and make a miraculous clearance. It looked for all the world to be over the line and eyes were trained on Kevin Friend to see if his gaze moved towards his wrist.
The mass relief spread to the Town players who responded by seeing out the game almost flawlessly. Regaining control, the only scares were a free kick slammed in to the wall by the under par, possibly traumatised Neves and a weird phase of play where the injured Kongolo (who should have earned a free kick for the challenge which immobilised him) played in Jiménez only for him to lose composure at the vital moment.
For the most part, Town navigated the rest of the game in some comfort and some of the passing exchanges were delightful as Wolves chased shadows. One, in particular, ended with Billing back flicking to Pritchard in the box. The diminutive striker didn’t quite catch the ball sweetly enough to trouble Patrício, but the second, sealing goal was only minutes away.
Mooy played the ball forward to Mounié and the striker, sorely in need of a goal despite his excellent target man work, skipped through a lunging, foul challenge with Friend playing advantage but bringing play back as Mounié stumbled towards the free ball.
The Aussie, fresh back from a round trip of over 10,000 miles, lined up to take the kick towards a wall which, bizarrely, included a large hole at the left hand side. His effort was expertly curled around the gap – helped in no small measure by Neves getting out of the way – and past Patrício’s despairing dive.
A Lössl save at his near post from Jota prevented a fraught final few minutes but, if anything, it was Town who looked more likely to increase their lead and the olé chorus which accompanied a particularly impressive spell of possession was massively satisfying for those who had chosen to travel to the Midlands rather than watch from the comfort of a sofa or the pub.
The final act – a woeful free kick blazed over by Neves – rather summed up the day for Wolves whose apparent hubris, hopefully as they need to beat our rivals, should be dispelled. It was a harsh lesson for the old gold and three extremely welcome, unexpected points for a battling Town side who are finally reaping rewards for their patience in the early part of the season.
Shooting up the table provides a big psychological boost – though the spread at the bottom of the table is very, very thin – but more importantly, a thoroughly professional and controlled performance augurs very well for the challenges ahead.
Those of us who see Town regularly know that they haven’t been rewarded with a points total they deserve but, conversely, it has allowed us to be severely underestimated; a trap Wolves fell headlong in to.
A very good day in the Black Country.

Wood saves Iron




A pulsating game, played in yet another raucous atmosphere which, even if it is the only thing we can take from a season which was always going to be a struggle will still have been worth the experiences, saw Town strain every sinew to gain a point against a West Ham side with obvious quality, if sporadically employed.

Ultimately, a draw was a fair conclusion – for the second game in succession, Town’s opponents were forced in to tactical and personnel changes at half time, though the Hammers were significantly more adroit at changing course than Fulham had been and overcame a largely flat first half performance to gain a point.


Preceding the game, a moving and nicely pitched Remembrance Day ceremony, featuring a haunting rendition of The Last Post on a solo trumpet and an excellent display in the Britannia stand served to provide sombre perspective.
The frantic opening minutes saw Town determined to add to their meagre home goal total with Fabianski making a fine save on to the bar from Mounié’s powerful header while West Ham’s counter thrust left Arnautovic in the clear only for him to be foiled by an excellent save from Lössl.
Undeterred, Town attacked again but Mounié’s tame overhead kick was easily gathered. The danger wasn’t over for the Londoners though as their attempt to play out from the back was thwarted by the Terriers’ high pressing which resulted in Rice losing possession to Pritchard. The diminutive, ever active forward played a one two with Hogg before firing a low shot in to the corner with Fabianski flat footed.
An early lead ramped up the volume from all four stands as the confidence flowing from their first win coursed through Town veins, but a break from Anderson – who was afforded far too much space for comfort throughout the first half – past Zanka allowed the Brazilian to whip in a cross towards Arnautovic only for Schindler to clear the danger.
The home side were soon back on to the front foot, however, and within minutes, Fabianski had been beaten by a Billing cross/shot which went over his head and on to the post. Typically, the ball came back off the post rather than deflecting in and managed to evade the flailing body of the West Ham keeper.
Having hit the woodwork twice, Town finally leapt over Manchester City at the top of the thwarted by timber league table.
Mounié and Mooy both had good chances to shoot across Fabianski after being released in to the area by Pritchard and Hogg respectively but both hit the custodian instead.
A second goal would have been just reward for an excellent first half performance but a combination of weak finishing and recurring rank bad luck rather let off West Ham whose undoubted talent up front flickered from time to time but less frequently than their simple errors forced upon them by their aggressive hosts.
The positives of a good half for Town were somewhat soured by an injury to Löwe, who appeared to be cut down as he made another incisive break, though the referee, who seemed pretty lenient of West Ham tackles throughout, opted to pull Town up for Mounié being offside. The German, who had played well, was stretchered off to applause and replaced by Durm. Unfortunately for Town, this precluded a rather obvious change for later in the game – Hadergjonaj could have been replaced by the more effective Durm but stayed on to not a great deal of success.
West Ham changed to two up front in the second half with Hernandez replacing the pacy Diangana who looks a good prospect if a little raw, and the Mexican nearly levelled for the Iron within minutes of the restart. Having beaten Schindler with a nice first touch he was thwarted by Lössl only for the ball to squirt up in to the air, but he headed the opportunity over the bar.
The visitors imposed themselves on the game and looked significantly more threatening than they had since Arnautovic’s early attempt and it was clear that Town would need to call upon the same resilience they had utilised to see off Fulham.
On the hour, a header flashed across Town’s goal from a corner which Hernandez was only inches away from converting at the back post and with Snodgrass beginning to shine – he overshadowed Arnautovic for most of the game – and Antonio brought on to add more pace and threat, Town’s challenge became even tougher.
It wasn’t all one way traffic, by any means. Pritchard and Mounié harassed the visitors with the diminutive scorer having one shot comfortably saved and another opportunity when played through only for his lack of pace allowing a defender to block and the Benin striker winning a lot in the air and making productive use of much of his work.
The equaliser was a scruffy affair, even if the finish to the sequence of events was excellent. An attempted shot by Arnautovic became a miscued pass to Hernandez who was denied by Lössl at close range but the ball fell kindly for Anderson who smashed in the leveller in to the top corner past the many Town bodies trying to protect the net.
With their confidence soaring, the Hammers looked the more likely winners and Town were grateful for a goal line clearance by Mooy from a Diop header and a collective sigh of relief interrupted the now constant noise from the stands.
To the home side’s credit, they finished the game strongly and could have grabbed a winner in the closing stages. Mounié managed to out muscle his marker in the box but could only shoot weakly at Fabianski when a more confident striker would probably have converted. He also won a header which found Durm for a good effort which went just wide from outside the box and substitute Mbenza had an effort which was only five yards from the corner flag. He’s getting closer.
The best chance, however, fell to Depoitre who had replaced Mounié with the clock running down. A cross from the impressive Durm was perfectly placed behind defenders and out of Fabianski’s reach but the Belgian chose to try to connect with his foot rather than flinging himself at the inviting opportunity.
With 4 points collected at home against a relegation rival and a talented if somewhat depleted West Ham, this was a good week for the Terriers. The intervention of the woodwork, yet again and again, is hugely frustrating but the performances have been brimming with the spirit we have to show to compete.
By the end, the players were exhausted – Pritchard ran himself in to the ground to pick up a well earned man of the match – and the effort they are putting in is highly commendable and offers some hope.

Three at last, thank God almighty 3 at last




The very serious people of the sports media, the rather less cerebral minds online and something referred to as “Moose” will have hated the product on display on Sky, but those of us invested in the fortunes of a club punching way above its weight found nothing but joy in a gritty, full throttle performance which brought the first win for such a long time. There are no points for artistic merit.

November fog, no doubt encouraged by the few bonfires not lit over the weekend, provided an appropriate pall over a contest between two clubs who had reached crisis points for very different reasons. Town, with a management team having to weigh up both survival and relegation possibilities simultaneously – with the inherent dangers of the latter at the forefront – find recruitment to bolster a squad which barely survived last season understandably difficult, while Fulham’s extravagant approach appears to have destroyed their much admired free flowing style which, if not abandoned, seems to have been sacrificed for cheque book vanity.
Jokanović cut a lonely, bemused figure on the touchline throughout the game, seemingly wondering what happened to the principles he had instilled over the past 3 years, which is a great pity. Fulham, a likeable club to most, have gained many admirers during his tenure, and their promotion from the Championship was widely applauded as due reward for their refreshing style of play – Town fans will remember the relief at facing Reading rather than the Cottagers at Wembley.
Abandoning continuity and shoehorning expensive imports in to their squad seems like catastrophically bad judgement on the evidence of a night where they flowed like molasses, looked feeble all over the pitch bar the combative Mitrović and were barely able to create threat against opposition which applied overwhelming pressure on their space and time.
David Wagner’s reign at Huddersfield has been of similar length to Jokanović’s – the Serbian arrived at Craven Cottage in December 2015 – and on his third anniversary he oversaw a performance deeply redolent of his momentous time at the club. Utilising many of the players upon whom he has relied for promotion and survival, the trademark intensity, commitment and impeccable game management – qualities so markedly absent at Watford – came roaring back to deliver a 50th win for him and us.
At the heart of everything was Hogg. Covering acres of ground, the on field captain tackled, disrupted and protected to allow Mooy and Billing to influence the game more positively. His two partners in a central midfield which functioned exceptionally well were not shy in the tackle either, and the visitors were rarely allowed to unhook themselves from the heavy shackles imposed upon them.
From the start, the physical battle was comprehensively won. Mitrović aside, the visitors looked cowed and lightweight in comparison and the effect on their fragile morale visible. Schürrle, an outstanding footballer by any measurement, was almost entirely sidelined and anonymous while the other baubles drafted in to no effect barely merit mention.
A scrappy, in all senses of the word, opening 15 minutes was brought to life when a Hogg challenge on Schürrle freed Billing in to space. Striding forward with his awkward elegance, the Dane hit a cracking shot from 30 yards which comprehensively beat whoever Fulham’s custodian was this week only to hit the woodwork. Again. Players and fans could be entirely forgiven for despairing that a home goal would ever come – this was the 7th time attempts have been marginally off target in an opening segment of the season where the fine margins so ruthlessly exploited in the past two campaigns have shifted to the wrong side.
Mooy then provided a decent cross for Mounié only for him to head over when he could probably have done better. The problems up front were not to be resolved despite the ultimate victory, and we will overlook this at our peril in our temporary euphoria.
Rico, for that is his name, pulled off a good save from Pritchard who had turned nicely on the edge of the area to create the space for his decent effort. This lead to two consecutive corners as Town increased the pressure on the visitors and the second, indirectly, lead to the opening home goal of the season.
The initial corner from Löwe was cleared directly back to him, allowing him plenty of time to deliver a cross significantly more threatening. Schindler rose above Fosu-Mensah to head home. Ludicrously, the slight deflection of the beleaguered Dutchman – who was booked then hooked at half time – deemed it an own goal by the powers that be.
The relief around the ground was intensely palpable, and the reward for the intelligent patience of the home support – who can see beyond bald statistics  – was a burst of unbridled joy at what could be a significant turning point of a difficult season.
Scoring first is and always has been, crucial for Wagner’s teams. While going behind seems to derail the team and engender malaise, taking a lead anchors the game plan and enhances the qualities of defiance and aggressive control typical of the spirit he inspires.
To gain the three points which were desperately needed, Town had an hour to see off opposition who were demoralised but with latent threat if the stranglehold was loosened.
It was an hour of largely uninterrupted joyful ugliness. From front to back, Town harassed Fulham in to mediocrity, rarely lifting their foot off the throat. While their attacking threat diminished, particularly in the second half when Fulham’s tactical changes saw Town go to 4-4-2, and even Sky were unlikely to be able to polish this particular ordure, the typically fervent home support lapped up the dogged commitment of their side and cared not that it would disappoint someone viewing in Kuala Lumpur or Hicksville, USA.
With Hogg relishing the midfield battle, harassing whatever flair Fulham half remembered they once had out of the equation, Mooy exuding the calm control he can impose when at his best and Billing floating between the lines with the intensity he has added to his game for much of the season, the visitors were restricted to one good chance which Schürrle put wide, a tame free kick and an offside goal which looked avoidable.
Any threat Town carried was provided down the right but Hadergjonaj’s decent runs – he looked backwards less than he had done in the first half – were undone by indecision at the crucial time and not helped by too few Town players attacking the box.
Pritchard, who was as busy as ever, fluffed his lines a little when he was freed on the left but was similarly handicapped by limited support in the box.
The best chance, however, fell to substitute Mbenza with his first and second touch. Billing won the ball in midfield, strode forward and released his teammate with a perfect pass, only to see the young Belgian hurry a shot which sliced towards the corner flag instead of taking the ball further forward. It did, at least, supply a moment of comedy for our worldwide friends.
Fulham’s desperation, and the understandable tiredness of their hosts towards the end, opened up the possibility of them sneaking an equaliser in a game which should have been put to bed with a Town second, but their efforts became increasingly rudimentary and easily repulsed.
A generous 4 minutes injury time were largely played out in Fulham’s half, and by the right corner flag specifically, before Taylor – who was fussy but an improvement on some we have had – blew his whistle to rampant celebration and a collective release of stress.
The aforementioned “Moose” took to Twitter to mock Town’s celebrations of their first win – rather gratifyingly, many responses took down his joyless nonsense – but those inside the stadium stayed behind to acknowledge a performance of no little courage and, hopefully, a breakthrough which can be a platform for better days.
Wagner won’t be fooled by a victory over a moribund and directionless opponent, just as he doesn’t allow his players to dwell on past failures, but it felt important to him and the fans who, by and large, understand the scale of the enormous challenges of this second season.
West Ham, apparently the team supported by “Moose”, will provide a very different level of opposition than the confused Cottagers, but it is a game we can look forward to with a little more hope.