Hallelujah! It has taken 9 torturous, soul destroying months, but finally the home fans at Molineux were able to witness a victorious performance, with goals from Stephen Ward, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Dave Edwards seeing off Barnsley to record a first league victory under boss Stale Solbakken.
The Norwegian made two changes from the side beaten at Leeds – Slawomir Peszko, who had impressed as a substitute at Elland Road, was rewarded with a start, whilst Christophe Berra replaced Richard Stearman.
Wolves were generally the better side throughout, and an impressive opening to the game was rewarded with a goal on 8 minutes. A poor throw by Barnsley keeper David Gonzalez was pounced on by left-back Ward who, after combining well with Ebanks-Blake, continued his run into the box before converting from 15 yards out.
Barnsley, who started with ex Wolves loanees Craig Davies and Marlon Harewood in attack, gradually improved as the game wore on, but aside from an off target strike from Davies, did very little to trouble the Wolves backline. Ward almost grabbed his second after 25 minutes following a fine link up with Jarvis, but saw his shot whistle wide of the far post.
Wolves were keeping the ball very well in midfield, with skipper Karl Henry and home debutant Tongo Doumbia patient in their approach. Doumbia, who’s early lapse of concentration had almost led to a chance for Barnsley, improved as the match progressed. Ebanks-Blake and strike partner Kevin Doyle were working hard in attack, the former coming close to doubling Wolves’ lead with a tame shot from just inside the box. After more good work involving Jarvis and Ward, a cross from Doyle narrowly evaded the unmarked No.9, Gonzalez reacting well to smother the danger.
The visitors started the second half well, Davies coming perilously close to an equalizer with a 25 yard drive just minutes after the restart. But Wolves were always dangerous going forward, and a 2nd goal duly arrived on the hour mark, after good work from Doyle. The Irishman had dropped deeper to receive the ball, his pinpoint pass into the box met by Ebanks-Blake, who beat the offside trap to score from close range.
The excellent Henry was subbed just after the hour mark due to a slight hamstring niggle, Edwards replacing him. At the same time, Bjorn Sigurdarson was introduced for goalscorer Ebanks-Blake.
Buoyed on by a raucous South Bank, the three points were clinched with a delightful third goal on 70. After a skilful give and go, Peszko, who had delivered an industrious performance on his home debut, raced down the right wing following an incisive through ball from Zubar. Toying with the defender, his cross was then met by the onrushing Edwards, who headed home from 6 yards.
To their credit, Barnsley continued to come forward with purpose, and deserved the consolation goal that came their way with 12 minutes remaining, Kelvin Etuhu beating Ward down the left flank, before crossing for Tomasz Cywka to fire past Carl Ikeme from close range.
Substitute Sigurdarson almost added a 4th, heading a Jarvis corner onto the crossbar, but Wolves had done more than enough to get their Championship campaign off and running.
I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to win a game! The football, on the whole, was very easy on the eye, especially in the first half, with more passing and patience than we ever saw under MM. It was nice to see Ikeme taking the option of rolling the ball out to his defence, as opposed to the aimless hoofing we saw far too often last season. The players look more comfortable in possession, and we were able to retain the ball for spells as well, a very positive sign that Stale’s new methods are beginning to bear fruit.
Yes, there is still plenty of scope for improvement, and more stronger, clinical sides would have surely made more opportunities from the spells of possession that Barnsley enjoyed in this game. But after a horrible 12 months, we at least have reasons to be optimistic
We saw more flashes of quality from Jarvis again. He and Ward were proving a dangerous partnership down the left flank, and his sheer pace had Barnsley rattled. It is so hard to explain how much of a blow his potential departure would be.
There were fine performances from a host of players, including Karl Henry, who I thought was the best player on the pitch until his withdrawal, which is hopefully just a precaution. Doumbia looks a very good player, and Berra came in to do a solid job. Roger Johnson is also quietly working his way back into the fan’s affections.
So after 9 months without, let’s make it two home wins on the bounce on Saturday!