As Wolves look to begin their assault on the promotion spots in the Championship, Tom Tracey provides a guide on how the gold and black army can achieve their goal.
In my lifetime of watching Wolves, we have been promoted via the playoffs in 2003, won the Championship in 2009 and League One in 2014. In comparison to many clubs around our current ability, this is not a bad haul. There have not been many seasons of nothingness – we have also been relegated three times during this spell.
In my opinion, the four key components to get promoted are: form (especially end-of-season form); squad depth; goals; and finally, a slice of luck. Here is my breakdown of these four components comparing our current campaign to our three recent successes.
Form is a vital part of getting promoted. You have to string results together to keep confidence high and hold off any challenge from other promotion hopefuls, especially if you are going into the playoffs: it is often the team who sneaks into the bottom places in the playoff positions that wins the promotion rather than the team who missed out on 2nd place due to bad end of season form. Recall the 2001/02 season. Going into March, the team was 8 points clear at the top of Division One but 2 wins in the final 9 games led to a third placed finish and defeat to Norwich in the playoff semi-final.
A season later, only 2 league defeats after New Year 2003 meant Wolves went into the playoffs on a good run, allowing confidence to build for the playoffs.
In 2008/09, Wolves’ wobbly spell took place between December and February but winning 8 out of the last 11 saw off any real challenge from Birmingham and the other contenders for the top spot.
After the New Year in the 2013/14 title winning campaign, like in 2003, we only lost 2 league games which built massive momentum and thrust Wolves ahead of rivals Brentford and Leyton Orient, ending up with over 100 points. We won 8 of the last 10 games in a season which started out looking fairly tough but eventually was won at a canter.
For a Wolves promotion this year, they need to maintain the level of the current form that they are on, having not lost in 2 months. Turning some of these draws into wins will be vital. An average of 72 points usually sees teams get a playoff spot and our current points-per-game of around 1.6 would see us get into the top six at the end of the season in an average season.
Having the ability to turn to a bigger squad in times of injury, poor form or simply a need of refreshment is a big boost to helping achieve promotion. This season, our current use of 25 players bears more resemblance to 2003, when we used 24 players in the league, rather than the title winning seasons where we used 29 and 28 players in 2009 and 2014 respectively. Kenny’s replacement of the entire front line last season would play a big part on the increased number of players used as he opts for a more settled and concentrated squad this season.
An obvious point to make but a higher number of goals for and a low number against always increase the odds in your favour. In the three promotion campaigns, we achieved the following:
2002/03: Goals for: 3rd; Goals against: 2nd; Goal difference: 2nd
2008/09: Goals for: 1st; Goals against: 6th; Goal difference: 2nd
2013/14: Goals for: 1st; Goals against: 1st; Goal difference: 1st
Current: Goals for: 14th (joint); Goals against: 9th; Goal difference: 9th
You can see by the numbers that we need to improve both ends of our goal stats, as we are way off the pace of the promotion seasons. In 2008/09, we conceded 52 goals which is quite high for a team winning the league and our poor run of goal-conceding form in November 2014 would make this season comparable to 2008/09 should we win promotion.
In 2002/03, Kenny Miller scored 19 league goals whilst Blake and Sturridge both managed 10 or more. In 2008/09, the bulk of the goals were put in by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake who notched 25 whilst Iwelumo was the only other with over 10 goals. In 2013/14, Griffiths, Dicko, Sako and Henry all notched over 10 goals whilst this current season sees Dicko, Sako, Henry and Edwards scoring the bulk of the goals between them; Kenny’s team is definitely one that shares the goals rather than relying on a single scorer, a good trait to have.
The final component in my promotion pick-and-mix is a slice of luck. The playoffs are always a lottery: any team can get promotion despite having far less points than another team after 46 games. Even in the 2003 Cardiff final, who knows what may have happened had Murray not saved Sheffield United’s penalty.
During the 2008/09 season, Kyle Reid’s badly aimed cross caught the Cardiff keeper off guard and went in as an own goal to secure a late 2-2 draw and keep us at the top on a rocky patch of form. Even as the season was already victorious, a 92nd minute Stearman goal won us the final league game against Doncaster, whilst a late goal away at Barnsley the week before confirmed our status as Champions.
It seems that luck is a special part of promotion: when you are on form and playing well, luck falls your way. The crazy 6-4 win over Rotherham last season saw a game pulled back to 4-4 before injury time goals secured the win. Televised games against Crawley and Gillingham saw us saw and concede winners in injury time in respective games, but generally we did not concede many late sucker punches.
A season that sticks in my head is the 2007/08 season as one that saw us concede many late injury time equalisers or winners in a season that saw us miss out on the playoffs on goal difference. This is a great example where luck (or concentration) plays a big part in achieving promotion or falling short.
James Henry’s 96th minute equaliser (what a hit!) at Bolton typifies the sort of luck we need to get promotion. Leon Clarke’s late winners over Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday are also notable examples. Dicko’s goal against Brentford where he was offside also contrasts to earlier bad luck in the season from refereeing decisions.
Let’s hope we can keep churning out these slices of luck and maybe we can just sneak into the playoffs – then who knows what might happen.