Although some good moments saw the team beat Liverpool and Spurs as part of a wonderful home record, the awful away form brought many miserable afternoons. Our Wolves fans look back on the turmoil and relegation scrap of 2022/23.
I have travelled 6,000 car miles and been fortunate enough to go to every Wolves game this season. Thanks to Sky and BT the potential conflict between significant wife’s birthday party and grandson’s christening did not cause a head v heart moment.
What were our expectations back in August? Ignore the rich seven and we were in a League of 13, needing to be good enough in that group. Few would have thought we’d make the top 10 overall, but equally, I suspect few thought we’d be in the bottom three at Christmas.
We survived! You see the excitement at Burnley and Sheffield United, plus the play-off final to achieve Premier League status. Our wins against Palace and Villa were more low key but we achieved the same – PL next year season.
Mission accomplished – sometimes you have to balance ambition with realism.
Did we start with the right Manager? Hypothetical now, but with hindsight, obviously Lage did not work out and by then our squad turnover had set a worrying tone. Few of us could understand the logic of ripping out Saiss, Coady and Boly from our relatively solid defence.
Had we not started with Lage, then who? Was Lopetegui available at that time? Have we got the right man now? We can only say, so far, so good. The Lage squad, along with their fitness levels, were not going to keep us up, Lopetegui came and created sufficient improvement to thankfully turn our results around and ensure enough points were gained.
Many things have contributed to this being a far from enjoyable season overall. Wolves performances; having the World Cup in the middle; VAR not being fit for purpose; the standard of refereeing and the ‘acceptable’ interpretation of the rules that have been ignored by refs and much of the media. Along with that, the increasing disregard for the fan in the stadium. During Covid everyone said how the ‘fans made the game’, now no-one gives a jot about them.
It has been the first time in our current run of PL seasons that we have felt the panic around maintaining our status. Vieira, Rodgers and Marsch have all been regarded as ‘good’ managers yet none managed to see the season out – there was similar panic felt in those boardrooms too. That group of 13 has been more competitive than ever with far more unexpected points gained against the big boys. It has been our hardest challenge while under Fosun.
Nothing to be gained by dwelling on the lowlights, there have been some highs too that are worth reflection. Three significant matches immediately spring to my mind.
Albeit with less games played than usual, being bottom at Christmas usually leads to a predictable end. Everton on Boxing Day saw 17th play 20th. Never mind the quality, feel the three points, with our late late goal. The Lopetegui reign had started with a huge positive. The mindset had changed. The doom and gloom mood around the place began to improve.
Transfers in January brought further improvement with four new signings involved in the game at home to Liverpool and five against Southampton. The role Fosun played financing these deals should not be overlooked. Everton and Leicester did not have that support. I guess we’ll worry about FFP at a later date.
A win against Liverpool is a treat. 3-0, dreamland. Singing ole, ole, ole... even now, raises a big grin. Belief was growing and Lopetegui’s stature was growing too. We had not seen a manager roll the dice so much with substitutions – and it was often paying off.
Southampton away could have been all about Jarred Gillett, the referee. He appeared to make the rules up for himself, producing six yellows in the first half (incidentally he booked no-one in the second half nor anyone in his next PL game. How weird is that?). Two innocuous Lemina challenges led to a red card, leaving us a goal down and an hour to play with ten men. Amazingly we turned it around and won. Clear evidence Lopetegui had brought something to the squad’s spirit.
From then on it was all about accumulating more points than three other teams. One weekend the results went our way, the next it was the reverse. Coinciding with our home and away fixtures. For three years our home results had been decidedly average so the timing of a string of Molineux wins was perfect. The wins over Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea messed up all our points calculations on a good way. Like anyone takes it one game at a time – admit it!
Despite retaining our top flight status the negativity around the place is disheartening. I suspect much of it comes from newbie fans and social media providing a means for anyone to express an opinion regardless of substance and facts – that’s the world we live in.
We are about to enter our 6th PL season (in 7 Fosun years), our PL average position has been 10th in that time
Consider our average position in the last 50 years. Remember, we had not finished as high as 13th in any of those previous years.
I find it hard to fault Fosun financially. The crux is, and has been for a while now, the recruitment. Nothing new in that statement, but many Wolves articles seem to dance around it. Make three stellar signing and we might have lift off, perhaps Kalajdzic and Chiquinho are already part of that. Hope – we have to have it.
So, lets concentrate on what we can do, and have done, rather than what we can’t and haven’t done. Several teams and fans lower down the pyramid would gladly swap positions with us.
Those who have not ‘left the ground early’, thanks for reading, have a good summer and don’t believe all the transfer rumours.
Ultimately, the end justified the means; and let’s be frank, for an uncomfortable period, Wolves appeared serious candidates for an embarrassing exit from this league.
The methodology certainly wasn’t stimulating; pragmatic at its best and excruciating at its worst. Given the way we played, had we taken the dreaded drop, condolences from most neutrals would have been in short supply.
Pacifism is an honourable creed but all season we took such a maxim to the extreme. Mission was accomplished and all credit for finding a way however tortured the process may have been, but Wolves were an exasperatingly hard watch all year.
A pitiful 31 goals, the fewest of any team in the league was an indication not only of the paucity of our finishing, but of the lack of creativity and imagination that made for such a miserly return.
Sure, we desperately need a striker worthy of the name but regardless of pedigree, asking any front-runner to operate on scraps won’t come remotely close to remedying our desultory impotence.
The problems run much deeper; there’s no sustained future in continuing with the style that got us over the line on this occasion. The application shown at home after Christmas was admirable; bloody-minded determination saved the day and we avoided the bottom three from January onward, but unless we are more expressive and expand our options, we are susceptible to slipping further into reverse.
With only two unconvincing victories to our name as the World Cup loomed, Bruno Lage simply had to go. He had overseen some fine away results last season, but the lack of funding to properly strengthen a limited squad suggested that Jeff Shi had lost all confidence in the head coach. The last gasp signing of Sasa Kalajdzic appeared to be a panic response from the outset and the deal blew up spectacularly in our faces.
Diego Costa too was always a long shot; he became something of a folk hero due to his Desperate Dan approach but his time had long passed. Throw in the brutally sad demise of the splendid Jimenez and we were well and truly in the cart; simply nothing up front, a problem festering well before this season began and inexplicably, not addressed as an absolute priority.
Lumbered with a disjointed squad, Lopetegui immediately laid down a marker by winning at Everton, but he too could not halt the demise on the road. By the season’s end we were virtually uncompetitive on our travels; the nature of performances as disappointing as the results.
The wins at Goodison and Southampton were the only two away fixtures where we scored more than once all year; a diabolical statistic that simply cannot be repeated. A lot of cash was invested in January to compensate for the neglect of pre-season. The objective was achieved, but overall, the transfer policy was poor.
Nunes and Cunha recruited expensively both failed to live up to expectations; inconsistent, sometimes anonymous and flattering to deceive despite occasional glimpses of real ability. Guedes too, cost us lavishly and packed his bags at the first opportunity, Sarabia made no impression of note, seemingly unable to adapt to the intensity of the English game.
It was at the cheaper end of the range that we got value for money; Dawson was inspirational, a brave, wholly committed stopper of the old school who stabilised our defensive organisation seeing us lose only two home games in 2023. Mario Lemina injected some much- needed competitive energy into midfield and Joao Gomes, although used sparingly made a positive impression that surely augurs well for next year. Our transfer policy needs far more flexibility; limiting our transactions to almost one part of the globe served its initial purpose; now Wolves need to explore every option regardless of location.
To finish a trying season on a cloud of uncertainty is exasperating; Lopetegui publicly voicing concern regarding recruitment and casting doubt regarding his future at Molineux is a distraction we could all do without. Financially, we can’t compete with The Haves and The Have Mores, but whatever restrictions we face, some creative business in the middle-range market is essential if we want to avoid another season of grinding struggle. The Nuno era recedes further with the departure of Moutinho with Neves and Jimenez likewise possibly treading pastures new. Quite a trio; Hall of Fame induction awaits all three of them; terrific contributors and a delight to watch and support. But football evolves rapidly; not by choice we find ourselves in transition with an air of uncertainty casting some concerns relating to how competitive we will be come the new season.
This has not been a memorable campaign; treacherous waters safely negotiated, but an air of vulnerability remains. We have to be more proactive, change our negative ethos and simply deliver a heavier punch. The odds have got to be adjusted; stay as we are, stick without twisting and we are asking for it; as simple as that.
Wolves won’t lack for support. Once again, our fans have been magnificent both at Molineux and on our travels. Endless miles travelled, vast amounts of money shelled out and all too often, not much in return. But the loyalty, the patience and the devotion to Wolves has never wavered; fantastic it has been and how much it’s genuinely appreciated, I don’t know. But I do know this kind of commitment is priceless and should never be taken for granted. Some positive leadership is needed; both quickly and decisively. Over to you Mr. Shi!
A very strange season that was largely full of downs, a few ups and a bitter-sweet end in many ways.
Considering we stayed up, now have a very good manager but ended the season negatively with some very poor away results as well as losing and potentially losing some of the best players to have played for this football club.
Going back to August 2022 where there was a lot of uncertainty around how this season would end up with signings being done late and not having a proper squad going into our opening game at Leeds. All of that changed towards the end of the transfer window with the additions of Gonçalo Guedes, Matheus Nunes, Nathan Collins and Sasa Kalajdzic.
Most of us thought we would really kick on and have a successful season, attempting to make a push for the top half at the very least. Little did we know it would end up being the complete opposite.
It’s always easier to look back on things in hindsight and Bruno Lage was a split opinion for our fan base going into this campaign. For whatever reason, he couldn’t get the best out of the players and towards the end of his tenure, his team selections and decisions proved the panic in him desperately trying to get results.
I believe we made some poor decisions in the summer transfer window. Our defence was very thin on the ground and lacked experience at the heart of it. In attack we didn’t have anywhere near enough firepower, relying on a Raul Jimenez that was nowhere near the same player after his head injury and Sasa Kalajdzic, an unproven striker at the top level who had recurring injury problems, particularly with his knee. All of that forcing us to sign Diego Costa on a free transfer who hadn’t played football for months.
In previous seasons, our midfield has always been the one that was low in numbers but that was sorted out with Matheus Nunes and Boubacar Traore signing as well as Joe Hodge making the step up from the under-21’s. Losing the likes of Conor Coady, Romain Saiss, Marcal, Willy Boly significantly lowered the amount of defenders we had but also they had massive amounts of experience between them that we didn’t replace whatsoever until Craig Dawson joined in January.
The board made some very poor decisions, another one not having a replacement for Lage, albeit the Julen Lopetegui situation before he eventually joined was out of their control but still could have been handled better. Then again, the fact we waited for him and stayed up thanks to him is important because if we had got someone else, who knows what would have happened.
Massive credit to Lopetegui because he got the connection back with the fans, got a sense of belief within the group of players and brought everything together which isn’t easy when the club was 20th in the Premier League when he took charge. Thankfully he had enough time to turn it around and who knows what we can achieve if he stays and gets a full pre-season with us because he did absolute wonders at Sevilla.
The away form was shocking all season, although the two wins we managed at Everton and Southampton were both won in some style. The issue Lopetegui had was that because he came in during such a difficult time, it wasn’t like he could do everything how he probably would have in an ideal world which probably meant our away form suffered and our home form was very impressive apart from the Leeds and Bournemouth defeats.
We made Molineux somewhat of a fortress again and that was the key to staying up from the position we were in. Beating Liverpool 3-0, Spurs, Chelsea and Villa all 1-0 played a massive part in us surviving and thanks to Lopetegui for making us extremely difficult to play against at home, something we hadn’t had since Nuno.
Ruben Neves in potentially his final season at Wolves played a huge part too, taking over as captain and putting in so many unbelievable performances throughout. The best player I’ve seen at Wolves along with his counterpart Joao Moutinho. Obviously Neves hasn’t left yet but no Wolves fan could blame him if he did, he deserves to be playing at the highest level possible.
Moutinho obviously being confirmed as leaving, a shame we never got chance to say bye to him properly but an outstanding footballer and one who has given us everything whenever he’s stepped onto the football pitch in Old Gold. To be able to say we’ve had the player who has the second most caps for Portugal not only play for us but played for Wolves more than he has for any other club is incredible.
I do massively fear for next season if Lopetegui doesn’t get money to bring players in and ends up leaving, however I will also be very excited if he does stay and is given funds to improve the squad. There are areas that 100 per cent need quality adding to it if we want to be challenging in the top half of the table again and with a manager of his quality at the helm, us fans should be able to believe, right?
This has been a hard season to put into words, but I’ll try my best and the only thing I can really liken it to is riding a “boring rollercoaster”. Similar to the other rides in Alton Towers that don’t have the identity, allure or reputation as “Oblivion”, Wolves are just one of those smaller rides that cost you a tenner and you spend half the time questioning whether it was worth the money or if you’ll perish in a fiery blaze. Thankfully, the ride perks up a bit during the end with some memorable moments and you finish the ride feeling it was alright but slightly overpriced.
And that’s essentially been our season. A promising transfer window (possibly our most promising since we got promoted) followed by bad luck, questionable management (Neves at centre half, really Lage?) and generally boring football. After some promising performances early on in the season, Wolves slumped and were deservedly bottom of the league going into the World Cup. Luckily, Lage got the boot and Julen came in with some shrewd signings to help steady the ship and guide us to safety, but you can’t help but wonder whether the magic is starting to wear off with all the uncertainty about his future and the clubs finances.
That being said, the season hasn’t all been doom and gloom. We got some massive results against “big 6” sides who were also going through some tough times, that win against Villa, 3-0 Liverpool, the emergence of the now Portuguese international Toti Gomes, back to back goal of the month contenders and, for the first time ever, we actually have some squad depth. That being said, with the almost certain outgoings of the old faithful, it’s difficult to imagine what this Wolves side will look like next season.
However, there are plenty of reasons to stay optimistic. We have a few players coming back from Injury (Sasa and Chiquinho) and lots of players have had great loan spells and still may have a part to play as “new signings” (Giles, Cundle, Fabio and even Coady). Points wise, we have also been a top 10 side since Julen has come in, and if he stays there is no reason why this can’t continue.
But considering all of the above, Wolves need to find their spark and kick on early next season. The age old problem that haunted Nuno persists, and Wolves still struggle at breaking down sides at the lower end of the table and consistently score goals. Scoring less goals than teams seven places below you in the table is an embarrassment, and may catch wolves out if it isn’t addressed.
All in all, a challenging season, and questions now need to be answered on players, management and finances before fans can start relaxing. Hopefully, this season was a blip and we can get back to playing the football that we know these players are capable of.