PREVIEW: Luton Town v Wolves

Life back in the Championship is proving far, far harder than Wolves could have imagined, writes Mike Simmonds.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 4th January 2013, 8:46 am

Comfortably relegated from the Premier League last season after finishing a hefty 12 points adrift at the bottom, the Midlands club released manager Terry Connor from his duties and replaced him with Norwegian Stale Solbakken.

He started by squeezing past Aldershot in the Capital One Cup, before a decent enough return of seven wins from the opening 12 games gave cause for optimism around Molineux.

Those hopes ended with a 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield on October 20, beginning a sequence of nine games without a win, including six defeats.

It had looked like Wolves may have turned the corner with three victories out of four recently, including a fine 2-1 success at Blackpool.

But yet again, another poor patch was hit over Christmas, with three straight defeats, including 3-0 and 2-0 reverses at home to Peterborough and Ipswich, scoring just one goal in that time, during the 3-1 loss at Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day

All this has led to immense pressure on boss Solbakken, but he is still hoping to mastermind a change in fortunes.

Asked about his future recently, he told local media: “That is not for me to answer.

“I’ve not heard anything that suggests anything else (over his future), and I would certainly go on like I always have and try to turn it around.

“We all have to get it. I have to get it – I’m the boss of the team. There is no player at Wolves who wants anything else than success.

“I have seen how down the players are – they are certainly trying. But we can’t make excuses – we have to pick ourselves up and that goes for me, too.”

“The last thing I should worry about is my job - that would only make things worse.”

Wolves’ demise is even more surprising considering they still have a large number of the squad who were in the Premier League last campaign.

Three huge departures though, were striker Steven Fletcher, snapped up by Sunderland for £12m, flying winger Matt Jarvis, who West Ham picked up for £7.5m, while Michael Kightly joined Stoke City on a free transfer.

Christophe Berra, Kevin Doyle, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Kevin Foley, Karl Henry and Stephen Ward all remained at the club as does Roger Johnson.

Solbakken was given money to spend too, splashing out almost £10m to capture Bakary Sako (£3m), Tongo Doumbia (£3m) and Bjorn Sigurdarson (£2.4m), but despite an impressice looking squad, they sit 18th in the Championship with 31 points from 26 games.

Team news: Wolves are without long term injuries Slawomir Peszko (medial knee ligaments), Razak Boukari (calf), Wayne Hennessey (ruptured cruciate ligaments), George Elokobi (broken and dislocated ankle), Dave Edwards (torn hamstring), Stephen Hunt (hip) and Steven Mouyokolo (cruciate ligament).

They also have doubts over central midfielder Tongo Doumbia and left winger Bakary Sako who have hamstring worries. Doumbia missed the last game against Palace, Sako was taken off, while striker Bjorn Sigurdarson has a recurring thigh problem.

Striker Jake Cassidy has returned from a successful loan spell at League One leaders Tranmere, where he scored 11 goals, while Matt Doherty is also back from Rovers, but is cup-tied at the weekend.

Hatters meanwhile, have both Simon Ainge and Scott Neilson cup-tied, while Danny Spiller and Garry Richards remain on the injured list.

Top scorer: Hatters - Stuart Fleetwood (11). Wolves: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (10).

Man in the middle: Geoff Eltringham - Sunderland official has taken 19 games this season, showing 47 yellows and four reds thus far.

Has been from League Two up to the Championship, with his last game the 3-0 home win for Blackburn over Nottingham Forest on New Year’s Day.

Yet to take Wolves this year though and it will be the first Luton game he has officiated.

In charge: Ståle Solbakken 43-year-old is a former Norwegian international footballer, who was named 1995 Norwegian midfielder of the year, and won the Danish Superliga championship with both Aalborg BK and Copenhagen (in 1999 and 2001 respectively).

Joined Wimbledon for £250,000 while the Dons were in the Premier League back in October 2007 when former Hatters boss Joe Kinnear was in charge, but made just six league appearances and was sold to Aalborg BK in March 1998.

Played 58 matches and scored nine goals for the Norwegian national team, representing his country at the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships, until ending his playing days in March 2001 following a heart attack.

After announcing his retirement, Solbakken returned to Norway to take over former club HamKam in 2002.

Was named 2004 Norwegian Manager of the Year, before moving to Copenhagen where he won five Danish Superliga championships, also beating Manchester United 1-0 in the Champions League back in the 2006-07 season.

Left in June 2011 when it was stated he was on the verge of becoming Norway’s national boss at the start of last year, but then was appointed manager at German Bundesliga club FC Koln.

He was put on a leave of absence in April though, and officially took over at Molineux on July 1, 2012.

View from the opposition: Ståle Solbakken: “At the moment, we are not close to 100 per cent of showing what we’re capable of. That’s my duty to solve it.

“The competition is so big that every game is tough against every team and you’ll struggle if you don’t play at 100 per cent of your potential.

“There are many different reasons why things aren’t going well. We’re lacking in confidence and our better and most experienced players aren’t at their highest level.

“At the moment, Wolverhampton Wanderers aren’t a very good team and we have to get back to winning ways.”

Roger Johnson added: “Everyone knows it hasn’t been good enough and now it’s up to us to put it right.

“The manager takes a lot of the flak publicly but, on the pitch, it’s up to us to get the right results and that starts against Luton on Saturday.”

One to watch: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake - The former Manchester United trainee had a prolific spell at Plymouth Argyle before snapped up by Wolves for £1.5m in January 2008 and has since scored over 50 goals in that time.

Started this season with six strikes in his first 12 games, before a run of eight games without a goal.

Back on the scoresheet at Bristol City though and notched his 10th of the season at Palace last time out.

Friendly faces: Kevin Foley – Republic of Ireland international came through the ranks at Kenilworth Road, making over 150 appearances before earning a move to Wolves in August 2007 where he has since played almost 200 times.

David Edwards spent half a season with the Hatters from June 2007 to January 2008 scoring four goals in 19 league games and then earned a £675,000 move to Wolves, where has now now featured in excess of 100 times.

Luton forward Andre Gray was also a member of the Wolves academy, but left Molineux without playing a first team game.

We’ve got form: Hatters have played Wolves 16 times at Kenilworth Road, winning six, drawing three and losing seven times, scoring 30 goals and conceding 29, starting with a 2-1 FA Cup defeat back in 1932.

Hatters record in the competition against their opponents isn’t good, losing the only other encounter 4-1 back in 1960 when Gordon Turner scored as 25,619 were in attendance.

They have failed to win the last six meetings at Kenilworth Road, with the last victory a 4-0 Division One thumping almost 20 years ago on September 1983 thanks to goals from Paul Walsh, Brian Stein, David Moss and Brian Horton in front of a crowd of 10,975.

Town’s biggest win came back in 1955 when roared on by 27,911, Bob Morton (2), Gordon Turner (2) and Mike Cullen all scored in a 5-1 triumph, while the heaviest home defeat saw them thrashed 5-1 in October 1959.

Last time out: Luton were beaten 3-2 in their last clash with Wolves at Kenilworth Road on March 3, 2007 when both sides were in the Championship.

Gary Breen had put Wolves in front on 10 minutes, before Lewis Emmanuel and Leon Barnett struck to ensure Town led 2-1 at the break.

In the second half, goals from Andy Keogh (53) and Karl Henry (66) were enough though as Wolves came through in front of just over 10,000 fans.

Kevin Foley was in the Luton side that day, while current goalkeeper Dean Brill remained an unused sub.

Hatters: Marlon Beresford, Kevin Foley, Markus Heikkinen, Lewis Emmanuel, Leon Barnett, David Bell, Steve Robinson, Matthew Spring (Warren Feeney 71), Keith Keane, Drew Talbot (Clarke Carlisle 71), Bjorn Runstrom.

Subs not used: Adam Boyd, Dean Brill, Sol Davies.

Attendance: 10,0002.

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