The manager and the mercurial winger pushing Wolves towards the Championship summit
“I had planned that because I have now seen the way all the supporters have followed us.They have stood behind us even when we were rubbish in Cardiff and helped us to the end. They deserve another international break and a salute from the manager for their support. Before the last break we had two defeats at Cardiff and Leeds when they hadn’t had much to cheer about. I think they deserved to see how pleased we are to have such loyal supporters behind us.” Stale Solbakken, Saturday 6th October
What Stale Solbakken is referring to is the celebration that you can see in the picture that accompanies this article. It came on the final whistle as Wolves recorded their 5th win in 6 games against Blackburn Rovers to ascend to the giddy heights of third place in the Championship. Solbakken's impassioned response to the win is not to be underestimated. A side without several senior players was down to the bare bones to take on a team which still boasts a number of its Premier League stars and newly signed pricey assets. Solbakken had every right to be happy with a highly efficient victory!
The recent run of positive results and an upturn in performance has coincided with the departure of Terry Connor. The long-serving, long-suffering coach was relieved of his duties following a poor performance against Cardiff and perhaps more significantly it had become clear that his vision for Wolves was not the same as the Norwegian chief. Whether the significant increase in wins, points gained or clean sheets has anything to do with Connor's departure is debatable, but one thing is for sure...This is now Solbakken's Wolves!
And if this team is now Solbakken's Wolves, the undoubted star is one of Stale's signings! Bakary Sako was signed in the summer in response to the departure of Matt Jarvis to West Ham. Jarvis was the darling boy, the good looking, fast paced winger who caught the eye with his energetic style. A real hit with young fans and certain female fans who adorned their shirts with 'Mrs. Jarvis', there was something about the former Gillingham man that never cemented his popularity with the majority of the Wolves crowd. Many pointed at his inability to produce an end product, others looked at a player who hadn't really progressed in the way he should. What all could agree on though was that the price Jez Moxey commanded for him was more than he was worth. And so Solbakken looked for a replacement, and as with the majority of his signings, he looked abroad and unearthed a real diamond in the rough.
Bakary Sako has already drawn comparisons with Mario Ballotelli in Midlands' circles. Full of talent, the ability to strike the ball with real ferocity and in the style of "Super Mario" you never really know what Sako is going to do! What the Frenchman has done in his fledgling Wolves career to date is unite the majority of the support in their approval for him in a way that Jarvis never really did. As the echoes of "Running down the wing, hear the Wanderers' sing, Bakary Sako" and to the tune of Hey Jude "Na na na na Sako" faded away, the memory of another Sako inspired three points lived on as the 2,000+ returned home down the M6. He was the constant threat in an afternoon of cagey play and few chances. If one player on the pitch was going to create one moment of class it was going to be Sako and he duly obliged. With less than 15 minutes to play, he picked up the ball on the right wing after his corner has been cleared. Cutting in onto his left foot, he hit a shot of such pace and accuracy that it bypassed the throng of players in the box and sent the gold and black hordes into raptures. He celebration a foreshadow of the passionate outpouring that was to follow from him manager.
If Solbakken has found a player in Sako, he has also found a way of playing at this level that many of the players are still getting used to but is reaping rewards. The blood and thunder, 1000mph typical Championship style has been jolted by Solbakken's patient, passing game where possession appears to be 10/10ths of the law. He encourages players who seemed scared of the ball 12 months ago to enjoy possession and not be afraid to go backwards and keep the ball if it means an attack will come in the long term. This is not only an education for the players but also for the fans who must get used to this style and in truth embrace it! The players are still getting used to each other, they are still trying to perfect the system and style Solbakken wants to adopt and yet still we already find ourselves in third place. As I heard someone say on the way out of Ewood Park "We'll be alright when we click"! Solbakken has also got players playing for him in a way that McCarthy sadly never did! Roger Johnson looks every bit the player that we signed 15 months ago and Carl Ikeme has a consistency between the sticks that we have lacked since Matt Murray was crippled by injury.
There is much to be happy about at Molineux right now, even despite the blip to a rejuvenated Crystal Palace which was a reality check. The win at Blackburn has sent us into the international with a smile and Solbakken's reaction at the final whistle tells us he is happy too. The man continues to endear himself to the fans and connect to them in a way that Mick McCarthy sadly lost towards the end of his reign. Long may it continue!
The Solbakken Revolution is well and truly in motion! Is is too much to conceive a promotion at the first attempt?