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Opposition View: Wolverhampton Wanderers

14 March 2017

Express & Star's Tim Spiers tells us what to expect from Paul Lambert's side tonight

It was heavy weather against Rotherham United on Saturday in the 1-0 win, did that game raise more questions than answers?

Yes that's absolutely right. Despite Wolves finally ending a run of seven games without a win (and six defeats) many supporters will have left Molineux even more fearful that their team may be relegated this season. That's because the performance was, in Paul Lambert's own words, the worst Wolves have played in months. Rotherham, despite earning a solitary point from 18 away matches in 2016/17, pushed Wolves all the way and created three golden opportunities to score including in the last minute of injury time. It was painful to watch and some supporters even booed the team off - but ultimately all that mattered was that Wolves earned three extremely important points. That said, if they play like that every week you expect they'd be relegated.

Wolves picked up seven wins from 12 in December and January and knocked Stoke City and Liverpool out of the FA Cup, what has changed?

Good question. Wolves played out of their skins in beating what was essentially Stoke's first team and then travelled to earn a famous win against an understrength Liverpool at Anfield in front of 8,000 delirious travelling fans. Coupled with league victories over Villa and Barnsley, plus the £13million record transfer of Helder Costa, and January was a pretty darn good month. Few saw what was coming next, as Wolves endured statistically the worst February in their history, losing all five matches. In those cup games Lambert mastered a high pressing, counter attacking style. In February, against teams that had a tendency to sit off them such as Wigan, Burton, Blues and even Newcastle, Wolves badly struggled to break them down. Before you knew it they were in a relegation scrap, after looking optimistically up towards the top six in January. The poor form has been a real shock to the system for everyone at the club.

How does Paul Lambert's stock sit currently?

Reaction to his appointment was mixed. Dudley-born Wolves fan Sam Allardyce was unemployed at the time and while the chances of snaring him were extremely slim, that set the bar pretty high for supporters who had expected current Spain boss Julen Lopetegui to replace Kenny Jackett when Fosun bought the club in July (Lopetegui had a late change of heart when his country came calling). Lambert soon won most of them over with a positive attitude and positive results, as well as making good use of the club's excellent academy by handing a few future stars their debuts in place of under-performing summer signings. However, the knives were soon out after the nightmare February. Many have preconceptions about Lambert from his time at near neighbours Villa, meaning he hasn't got much credit in the bank. If he keeps Wolves up and makes sensible additions in the summer then Lambert definitely has the nerve and the nous to turn things around. But those are big ifs.

More match build-up

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How much concern is there around the club currently?

Plenty. Wolves were 'too good to go down' in 2012/13 when they hired a foreign manager with new ideas to blood a number of expensive signings into a Championship team (for Stale Solbakken in 2012, read Walter Zenga in 2016) and it didn't work. The similarities are too close for comfort. And their dreadful home record (five wins all season) is a huge concern. The fact six of Wolves' last nine fixtures are at Molineux should be a good thing, but at the moment it looks like being a hindrance that will result in this relegation fight going right to the wire. For a club that has spent £27million in transfer fees and wants to be a worldwide football force, that's both remarkable and unforgivable.

How will Paul Lambert's side look to approach tonight's game?

Wolves have performed far better away from home in recent months. They look far more effective when counter-attacking at pace, through the likes of Costa, Ivan Cavaleiro, Andreas Weimann and Nouha Dicko. Lambert has gone safety-first with his selections in a bid to end the nightmare run, so it's unlikely Wolves will be too open in a game they will need to avoid defeat in ahead of what looks like a daunting trip to in-form Fulham on Saturday. After miserable 4-0 and 3-0 defeats at Griffin Park in the past two seasons, I'm sure most Wolves fans would gladly take a point tonight.

Who are the men Wolves will be looking to for inspiration tonight?

January's two 'new' signings Weimann and Ben Marshall (Costa was already at Molineux on loan) have been Wolves' best attacking outlets in their past two matches. Costa has hit a brick wall since starring in the Liverpool FA Cup win but on his day is as good as any winger in the division. He's the guy who can win the match on his own. Fellow Ivan Cavaleiro, a £7m signing from Monaco last summer, is just back from injury and isn't far behind Costa in the talent stakes. Defensively they've not been too bad, even in this dreadful run of form, so it's up to Wolves' creative and attacking players to provide something special and get them winning consistently again.

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