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With Promotion Secured Can Wolves Follow Southampton Back Into The Premier League?

Friday 2nd May 2014
A year is a long time in football and barely twelve months ago, the fortunes of Wolverhampton Wanderers football club could not have looked bleaker. Relegation from the Premier League led to the appointment of Stale Solbakken as the manager, but six months later he was sacked and replaced by Dean Saunders.

The ex-Oxford United and Liverpool striker could not halt the slide and with rumours of dressing room disharmony rife, relegation from the top flight in English football was compounded just a year later by relegation into League One.

So in May 2013, it was a period of deep reflection and it is fair to say that when Wolves announced that former Millwall manager Kenny Jackett was to be the new manager, there was an initially under-whelming response.

Laying the Foundations

The situation Jackett would find at Wolves would be a somewhat unusual one. A Premier League sized club, in League One, with several underperforming players on Premier League wages and a large number of these wanting out of the club.

Jackett's first major role was seemingly pruning the club so that it could live within its means at League One level, four players, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Nenad Milijas, Christophe Berra and Stephen Hunt were released with Jody Craddock retiring. Seven more players, Adam Hammill, Eggert Jonsson, Dorus de Vries, , Karl Henry, Sam Winnall had left the club by the 1st August.

Other players were loaned out over the course of this season, including regular first teamers from Wolves time in the Premier League, Stephen Ward, Roger Johnson and Kevin Doyle amongst them.

In January, Wolves also saw two more players leave the club, striker Leigh Griffiths joining Celtic, while keeper Wayne Hennessey joined Crystal Palace in a £3m deal.

In their place, Jackett brought in several new faces, most of them on a free transfer. Most notable were ex-Bolton defender Sam Ricketts, midfielders Kevin McDonald, Michael Jacobs and Scott Golbourne and strikers Nouha Dicko and Leon Clarke, the latter a £750,000 signing from Coventry City.

Emergence of Youth

What was clear to Jackett early on was that if Wolves were to be successful, then they'd need to rely more on the players coming through their highly-regarded youth academy. Keeper Carl Ikeme, defender Danny Batth and midfielders David Davis, Jack Price and Anthony Forde were all likely to play key roles for Wolves over the course of the season.

The Pay Off

This strategy paid dividends as Wolves got off to a great start in League One and have remained at or near the very top of the division throughout the year. Perhaps most impressively, as other teams started to implode around them, Wolves remained consistent and strong and achieved promotion with a 2-0 win over Crewe on 12th April, with four games of the season left remaining.

Yet it is not just the fact that Wolves have earned promotion that is so impressive, but it is how they have achieved it.

Defensively, the club has kept a club record 24 clean sheets, they have conceded just 31 goals in 45 league games, scoring 86.

The club have also amassed 100 points and victory in their final game of the season against Carlisle United at Molineux will give them a League One record of 103, surpassing Charlton's best ever mark of 101.

They have also surpassed themselves off the pitch too taking a record 8,943 fans to a game with MK Dons, as well as recording attendances of over 30,000 for a League One game, a record that is unlikely to be bettered any time soon.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, at the recent PFA Awards Dinner in London, Wolves players were heavily featured in the PFA Team of the Year for League One. Five players, Carl Ikeme, Sam Ricketts, Danny Batth, Bakary Sako and Kevin McDonald were named in the team of the year. No other club in any division contributed more players to their respective representative team.

Promotion At The First Attempt - Again?

With Championship Football secured next season, manager Kenny Jackett has already lifted expectations heading towards the 2014-2015 season, stating that:

“Our aim is to get back to the Premier League when we come back in the summer: My Staff and players, we are here to get promoted next season.

“Three-quarters of the division will all think they've got a chance and we'll be one of them.

“We have to set realistic targets to try and get promoted again next year.”

It's a rarity for a team from League One to get promoted immediately to the top flight, Southampton were the last team to achieve this, but can Wolves realistically do this next year?

What Will Kenny Jackett's Master Plan Be?

The first decision Kenny Jackett will have to consider this summer is what does he do with the players who are due to return to the club from loan? Do the likes of Kevin Doyle, Stephen Ward, Kevin Foley, Roger Johnson, Razak Boukari, Jake Cassidy and Georg Margreitter have a future at the club?

Certainly, the quality of some of these players would benefit Wolves next season, but have they had their chance and will Jackett look to offload them elsewhere permanently to bring in his own players?

The future of players who are also stagnating at the club, such as £3.5m signing Jamie O'Hara also may need to be resolved.

The manager has already indicated that he expects to invest in his squad over the summer, so it will be interesting to see who Jackett and assistant head coach Joe Gallen along with Chief Executive Jez Moxey target.

What is in no doubt is that the quality and the ability of these summer signings, together with the future of players returning to the club, will play a significant role in Wolves aims of achieving Premier League status by the end of the 2014-15 season.

Can They Do It?

It is a tall order, but the very nature of the Championship is that it is a very open league and any team that can eke out results consistently has a great chance of progressing. Few teams had Burnley down as promotion candidates at the start of this season but the Clarets have achieved precisely that.

The open nature of this league may give Wolves a realistic chance and it is fair of Jackett to set such lofty ambitions for this great club, however two successive promotions on the back of two successive relegations is a huge ask for any manager.

I suspect Wolves won't thrive in the Championship next season, but given the direction the club is going, I think consolidation before a real challenge the following year is a more likely scenario.

And given the state of the club 12-months past, there are very few Wolves fans who would not accept that scenario.
Thomas Richardson
Big Newcastle United fan but even bigger fan of anything about the beautiful game. Englishman living in Scotland and currently taking plenty of stick for it. Best football moment Gaza celebration Euro 96, worst Kevin Keegan rant 95/96 season and eventual outcome.

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