Opposition Q & A
After that shocking defeat to bottom of League 1 Wimbledon at the weekend West Ham travel with their tail between their legs West Ham travel to North Birmingham where they will face Wolves who just managed not to lose their FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury. Ahead of the game I once again chatted to Tom Baugh, the editor of Wolves fan blog to discuss the upcoming game and to get his assessment of their first season back in the Premier League.
Hi Tom, the last time we spoke it was just after the start of the season, where you had got off to a steady start. Since then you have done amazingly well, you must be delighted with how the season is progressing?
Yes, it’s been very good. We’ve been in the top half pretty much all season, pulled off some incredible victories and generally been competitive against everyone. Like West Ham, we’re a club with rich traditions but things haven’t been this good for nearly 40 years. Long may it continue.
You mentioned earlier that you were surprised a bit by the pace of the game in the Premier League, but your team seems to be coping extremely well: in fact I would say that you are one of the paciest teams in the league. Who has stood out so far of your players?
I think the pace thing was just an adjustment for the players but credit to them they’ve quickly worked out what the Premier League is about and looked comfortable. It’s been a real team effort and I’d single out two players who typify that sentiment – Raul Jimenez and Matt Doherty. Jimenez plays the lone forward role beautifully and without his goals and assists, we’d have struggled. We’ve got to pony up £30 million in the summer to buy him from Benfica and I sincerely hope we take up that option. It’s been a pleasure to watch Matt Doherty for the best part of a decade just get better and better and better. He must be one of the best attacking full backs in the division now. They don’t call him The Irish Cafu for nothing!
Now that you have played everyone in the League, which teams/players have impressed you the most so far this season at Molineux?
Watford randomly trotted into town and completely dominated. I was impressed with Doucoure that day and can see him getting a big move. Lamela looked amazing for Spurs when they won at Molineux and Mooy did a similar number on us in a depressingly routine defeat to Huddersfield. From the big guns, Hazard was very sharp for an hour before we came back to beat Chelsea and Salah was the major difference when Liverpool beat us in December.
Ignoring the match when you beat us, which have been the highlights of the season so far?
Ha, it was sweet to get that late winner I must admit. But in truth it was anyone’s game in that second half and the ball wasn’t running for you in those early fixtures. Other than that glorious afternoon in the sunshine, two games stand out for different reasons – the 3-1 win at Wembley against Spurs and the 4-3 over Leicester the other week. Both performances underlined the resilience of the team and the quality within the group proving Wolves belong in the Premier League.
We are of course in the transfer window – any particular parts of your squad need improving?
I’m happy for us to hold fire and go again in the summer if it means getting the right players. Nuno likes a lean squad and it’s served us well for a season and a half. Injuries could catch us out of course so I wouldn’t be against another forward and some cover/competition at right wingback.
I don’t suppose there is any need for you to reiterate your praise for your manager, but you might as well give us your half-season report on his performance.
We’ve got a good one haven’t we? There were a few question marks after a four game losing run, but he tweaked the shape in midfield and we’ve gone on again since. With the exception of the top two, I wouldn’t swap him for any other coach in the league.
Steve Bull or Derek Dougan?
Got to be Bully. 306 goals mate. Admittedly I never saw The Doog, but Bully smashed 50 in consecutive seasons, dragged us back from the brink of oblivion and even walloped one in against the Scots on his England debut. As an aside, he also came to a birthday breakfast for my dad’s 60th birthday, carried the cake in and stayed for hours so I’m aggressively biased. Doog did it in the top flight I suppose but again, before my time.
You picked Man City to win the title back in September, are you sticking with your prediction? Which teams are going to fill the remaining Champions League slots?
Man City are still the best team in my opinion so I’ll stick to my guns, but looking at Liverpool’s position and remaining fixtures they’ve got a big chance. Beyond those two, Spurs and Man Utd for me. Arsenal have greater intensity under Emery but aren’t quite there and I can see Utd moving ahead of Chelsea now they’re playing with smiles on faces.
Who are your current predictions for the three relegation places?
Huddersfield are gone aren’t they? I keep expecting Fulham to pick up the pace but it ain’t happening. Cardiff have done well but are still in the bottom three, which says a lot. I’d go with those three with Burnley and Newcastle counting their lucky stars.
Where are Wolves going to finish the season, and where do you predict West Ham will finish?
I suspect we’ll be in and around one another as we have been most of the season. 7th to 12th is basically total guess work so I’ll say 8th and 9th and let you decide which order.*
How will Wolves lines up against West Ham on Tuesday night? Team/Formation?
Probably a 352 with Patricio in goal, a back three of Bennett, Coady and Saiss (with Boly suspended), Jonny and Doherty wingbacks, Neves, Moutinho and Dendoncker in midfield with Jota and Jimenez up top.
As I eluded to earlier you managed to snatch a winner on the break against us at The London Stadium back in September: will your extra rest after our respective FA Cup fixtures help you gain victory back at your place? Prediction for score?
Yes, I’m sure those extra two hours will really turn it in our favour :) Should be a good game. A lot to admire about West Ham this season and I’m a big fan of Anderson in particular. Impossible to have the first idea about how it will go so I’ll stick my backside on the fence and say 1-1.
Thanks again to Rob: Wolves have been a breathe of fresh air this season, and I always like to see promoted teams do well. After that appalling loss at the weekend, it would be perverse to predict a win, so I will join him in going for a 1 – 1 draw. COYI