Fear no one!

Last updated : 25 August 2002 By Dave Burgess

Derby was to be the first real test for Wolves after a bright start to the season.

After several years in the Premiership, culminating in last season’s relegation, you would expect them to be a real challenge to Wolves promotion aspirations.

Well at the final whistle yesterday the chants from the travelling army of "Can we play you every week?" was testimony to the way we matched and outplayed Derby for periods of the game.

Derby didn’t have the benefit of Ravenelli, Kinkladze, Burley and Poom in the line up but it seems that they, like Leicester and Ipswich, are battling with off the field financial problems as well as the on the pitch footballing adjustment to Division 1.

Wolves started with Ince replacing the injured Cameron, and until Ince’s substitution for injury, after 30+ minutes, I think there was a lack of balance from playing three similar players across the midfield.

We saw Blake popping up on the left side of midfield to retrieve the ball and then Newton seemingly playing as a third striker. I think this contributed to Derby having the upper hand in the earlier stages.

Deano also got the nod over Miller as the man to partner Blake but throughout the afternoon he seemed subdued and off the pace. The Derby fans gave him stick, which he must have expected, but he seemed a shadow of the forward we saw last season.

However, a great bit of finishing from, of all people Alex Rae, gave us a 1-0 lead and boy did we enjoy that!

Still, once Cooper came on he gave us a better shape and we looked more confident defensively.

However, the referee must have had his money on a score-draw, as he seemed determined to help Derby get an equaliser. Derby won a free-kick on the edge of the box as apparently we had held back Strupar. As, Strupar stepped up I feared the worst. However, his effort crashed onto the bar and was cleared.

We almost had a repeat of Irwin’s strike against, Burnley, when he stepped up to the right of the goal to chip in a free-kick that was certainly a goal until Oakes’s tip over.

The three minutes of added time saw Derby equalise. Again the referee spotted something, no-one else did and gave Derby another free-kick. The cross eluded everyone except Christie who steered it back across Oakes. Typical!

Derby started on top in the second half but they were unable to turn their half chances into goals. Wolves started to get back on top after 65 minutes and Deano should have scored but seemed slow to react to the through ball.

It looked like it was going to be the draw that, I think we’d have been happy with pre-match, until Cooper turned up trumps.

His shot was deflected, I could clearly see it from where I sat behind the goal, but if you don’t try – you don’t get!

I think this knocked the spirit out of Derby as Wolves stepped up a gear sensing all three points were there for the taking.

Another spectacular strike, this time from Alex Rae again, was to put the game beyond Derby. Obviously the team must have been practicing shooting, they had before kick-off but the results weren’t the same!

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better Miller, thank God, was finally in the right place to tap home a spill from the Derby keeper after a great run and shot by the awesome Blake (and you didn’t say that very often last season!)

4-1 was perhaps flattering but even when uncertain we looked a strong unit.

Irwin has added some resoluteness to the defence that Muscat never inspired. He also takes a mean free-kick and has a quality about him that we haven’t seen at the Molineux for a long time.

Everyone seems desperate to get in the starting 11 unlike the end of last season when everyone wanted to be anywhere but.

Players are once again battling as well as using their strengths. The confidence is high and the football we are playing is better than at the start of last season.

Ivar has been steady, again giving solidity to the centre of midfield. I thought he’d be a back-up for Rae and Ince but the fact that Jones tried to play all three is testament to his abilities.

Cooper is buzzing, I think he’ll start against Sheffield Wednesday. Blake is doing a great job up front; Deano/Miller will be ongoing for a while longer now that Miller has his goal.

Rae, after a slow start, seems to be back to his tiggerish best.

Butler, Lescott and Newton are steady. Oakes is still a bit dodgy with high balls but I’m sure he’ll sort that out.

Naylor is up and down. At Derby he tried to go round his man and succeeded, some of his passing is still ‘awry’ but I think he’ll hold off Camara and Edworthy in the short term.

Another bonus is that of the 10 goals scored so far, 8 have come from the midfield.

I think that when Mark Kennedy returns, hopefully in October, I can see us thrashing teams on a regular basis if we keep up the great start we have made.

As for the challengers after just 4 matches, I think Derby & Leicester will re-organise and get stronger as the season goes on. Ipswich if they lose Matt Holland will have to take stock but still have quality players and must still be favorites.

Perhaps the strongest challenges will come from Norwich, who are a well organised, hard working team and Portsmouth if their ‘new team’ can gel quickly.

However, despite all this, we are already top of the table and I think we’ll be there for some time to come.

We’ve passed the first ‘acid’ test; Ipswich away next month is the next one – by then there could be daylight between us and the rest!

Email me with any feedback etc. at: dave@wolves-mad.co.uk