A nice fresh possibilities-laden Saturday is relentlessly hurtling towards us, which means it is time to turn over proceedings to someone who can tell us all about this weekend's opposition. Or, to put it another way, welcome to Fan Focus.
This week's opposition, Wolves, have had a right old season this term, so obviously we needed someone very good indeed to sift through it all for us. Thankfully, we know just such a man, and are delighted to welcome Adam Bate back to Roker Report.
Adam has written for the likes of In Bed With Maradona, FourFourTwo, WSC, Calcio Italia, TeamTalk, Goal, and his own rather exceptional blog Ghost Goal (click here visit it immediately), so we really couldn't be in better hands this week.
I think it's fair to say that this season has been a real slog for Wolves fans. Given such little summer transfer activity, would it be fair that most fans saw this coming?
Adam: It’s embarrassing to admit it now, but most fans thought the signing of Roger Johnson was exactly what we needed. With Steven Fletcher and Kevin Doyle, along with Jamie O’Hara and some very talented wingers to supply them, the feeling was we could hurt teams but just needed a centre-back to organise the defence.
Johnson had built a reasonable reputation at Birmingham and was linked with bigger clubs than Wolves so I’m ashamed to say I (and many others, honest!) saw his signing as a coup. As it is, he has been one of the more significant factors in our demise, both on and off the field.
Most of the headlines surrounding Wolves have been about managerial matters, with Terry Connor replacing Mick McCarthy back in February and picking up just a solitary point since. But, in your opinion, how much responsibility for Wolves' troubles this season can be placed at the feet of the directors?
Adam: The majority of the blame lies at the door of the chairman Steve Morgan and the chief executive Jez Moxey. McCarthy hasn’t spent particularly well since promotion - £45million in three seasons and yet we were still picking as many as nine of the Championship-winning side – but the strategy has been flawed.
To list a few issues: (1) Spending vast sums on transfers but keeping one of the lowest wage-bills in the Premier League is a flawed strategy. (2) Knocking down a stand build-in the 1990s (and keeping a 1970s one) to increase capacity to 33,000 and beyond when the team needs investment and there was no demand for the increase in seats in a recession-hit city. (3) & (4) Sacking Mick in February and replacing him with his assistant… well, where do you start – but I’ll try below…
It looked for a while as if Steve Bruce was primed to take over from Mick McCarthy, yet Wolves fans seemed very much against that prospect. What was your take on that, and have events since affected your stance at all?
Adam: The feeling about Bruce was that he’d taken 21 points from 27 games with Sunderland which was pretty much an identical record to what McCarthy had just been sacked for at Wolves… except Bruce had done it with a better team. Of course, we didn’t know at that point that the club was about to appoint Terry Connor.
The board went out on a limb here. They derided the habit of choosing managers from the merry-go-round and Moxey’s tone in particular sounded like he was lecturing the rest of football. So when it goes as spectacularly badly as it has since, even I can appreciate the rest of football has every right to be laughing at us. Suffice to say I know no-one who thought Connor was the right man for the job – to that extent this didn’t require hindsight.
One bright spark of late whenever I have watched Wolves has been Michael Kightly, who finally seems to be looking something like the player he always threatened to become before injuries took a hold of him. What can you tell us about him?
Adam: He’s a breath of fresh air and he’d have been doing this for three seasons in the Premier League now but for injury. Kightly played a bigger role in promotion than Matt Jarvis on the other wing and it’s something of a curiosity to Wolves fans that Jarvis has played for England while the casual football fan might not even have heard of Kightly until recently.
He came to us from non-league football and it shows – in a good way. He runs around like a man possessed and, despite not having silky skills, he troubles full-backs by running at them and through sheer enthusiasm. He’s also a goal threat. Hopefully his return has come late enough that (coupled with his injury record) he won’t get a move in the summer and can help get us straight back up next season.
It seems a lifetime ago since Wolves beat Sunderland in the last game of pre-O'Neill era. What have you made of his impact at Sunderland?
Adam: Obviously impressed. I think Sunderland were in something of a false position so in that sense it was a shrewd time to walk into the football club. But he’s made decisions that Bruce probably wouldn’t have and it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the summer. You can almost certainly look forward to life towards the top half of the table put it that way.
Moving on to the game itself - Must-win potential season-changer for Wolves, or is it too late to harbour dreams of a great escape?
Adam: It’s far too late for all that!
As a contest, where on the pitch do you see the big result-defining battles taking place? Who are the likely match-winners for either side?
Adam: Our defence is awful and with Sebastien Bassong suspended it’ll be even worse on Saturday. There will be opportunities down the wings and through the middle – everywhere!
On a more positive note for Wolves, it’s always fun to see Michael Kightly and Matt Jarvis have a go at their full-backs and it’ll be interesting to see if they get a bit of joy.
I have enjoyed many a winner from your betting tips this season via Goal.com and your Twitter account. I can't let you go without asking if there are any markets for this game that have caught your eye!
Adam: Thanks. Well, we seem to be competing at least – prior to the spirited defeat to Arsenal in which we were reduced to 10-men early on, Wolves had taken the lead in the previous three matches and lost them all by just one goal. Thirty Premier League games without a clean sheet tells its own story though. I’d back both teams to score in this one.
And finally, how about a prediction?
Adam: I think Wolves are likely to play with freedom knowing it’s all over and with Sunderland having little to play for either I’d expect an open game. Sunderland to win 3-2 is about as optimistic as I can get!