When Colin Cameron produced a Premier day in Wolves’ history
It is 20 years next week since Colin Cameron made a clever run into the penalty area, positioned himself in between two Manchester City defenders, and met Henri Camara’s right wing cross with a glancing header.
The ball nestled in the right hand corner of City’s net, Cameron wheeled away to celebrate, and the 75thminute breakthrough proved a decisive – and historic – moment.
Decisive because it provided Wolves with their first victory of the 2003/04 season at the eighth attempt.
Historic because it was their first ever three points in the Premier League.
Now of course, football existed long before the inauguration of said Premier League, and so any statistics casually tossed out along those lines should often be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.
But the noise which greeted Cameron’s winner and the full time whistle demonstrated that this particular landmark did perhaps carry considerable significance, proving as it did Wolves’ first maximum haul in the top-flight - Premier League or otherwise - since a goal from another Scot Gordon Smith accounted for Leicester City almost 19-and-a-half years previously.
Of more significance than mere history was the fact that Wolves were in such desperate need of a win after a troubled start to the season.
Having been beaten 5-1 at Blackburn on the opening day, 4-0 by Charlton in their first home game, 5-0 by Chelsea in another home game, and only scored twice in their opening seven league assignments, baptism of fire was an understatement.
Goals for: Two. Against: 18. It was less baptism of fire, more towering inferno.
“It is always a learning curve going into the Premier League, especially if you haven’t played there before,” recalls Jody Craddock, who had arrived at Wolves from Sunderland in the summer.
“It is so difficult.
“The Championship has so many games and is physically demanding on the body but the Premier League is just so quick, with so many top players, and every mistake you make is usually punished.
“We struggled at the start, probably for different reasons and just weren’t up to it, not in terms of effort but quality, and although we improved over the season we ended up getting relegated because we just simply weren’t good enough.”
It had also been a difficult pre-season with the euphoria of the play-off final success against Sheffield United at the Millennium Stadium nowhere near matched by the amount of funds handed to boss Dave Jones for his summer transfer kitty.
On top of that, the pre-season friendly schedule featured concerning defeats against the likes of Morecambe – by six goals to one no less – and Yeovil.
In terms of recruitment, Wolves were already playing catch-up having secured promotion several weeks after their rivals, and ended up having to try to do similar in terms of league position after such a miserable start.
“If you look back at history, the teams that have gone up have had to spend to survive and grow,” argues Cameron, now assistant manager with Raith Rovers, where he started his career.
“Dave was never given the funds to properly strengthen in positions that he would have liked.
“On top of that, you have to look at the injuries we suffered to key players.
“Everyone saw what Joleon Lescott went on to achieve in his career and losing him for the whole season was massive – he would have made a big difference.
“And Matt Murray as well, a goalkeeper who I believe would have played for England had he remained injury-free, but he only played in the first game.”
With Wolves leaking so many goals, and Murray absent, who’d be a goalkeeper in those trying and testing circumstances?
Michael Oakes, that’s who.
With 51 previous Premier League appearances at Aston Villa under his belt, Oakes was certainly experienced enough at the top level as he came in to replace Murray from Blackburn onwards.
But, even as he performed well, and maintained his standards, Wolves just leaked too many goals.
“Any team going up finds it hard, and the quicker you can get a win or two under your belt to build some momentum the better,” says Oakes.
“The longer it goes without a win the harder that becomes, and we left ourselves a lot to do – too much to do – after that poor start.”
Gradually, however, there were some emerging seeds of promise.
Going to Old Trafford third game in and only losing 1-0 at Manchester United, a result which could have been even kinder had Henri Camara taken along his shooting boots, was a step in the right direction.
So too, a first clean sheet and point at home to Portsmouth, and then another draw at Bolton when it needed a late equaliser from the hosts to cancel out Alex Rae’s majestic piledriver.
Which takes us on to October 4th, 2003. And the visit of Manchester City.