Chequered Memories Of Premier League Life
Now And Then – Wolves Among The Country’s Cream
For some clubs, getting to the top flight is the ultimate achievement. For Wolverhampton Wanderers, not any more. Terry Colsaerts looks back at Molineux’s recent top-flight history and considers how this season might be different to the previous four they spent with the Premier League elite.
Wolves have now tasted the Premier League over five seasons and over three spells, with Dave Jones, Mick McCarthy, and Nune Espirito Santo the men to have guided them up from the Championship.
Here is our quick summary of what happened – and under who:
2003-04: A quick reality check
Having been at Molineux for two and a half seasons, Dave Jones took Wolves to the play-offs again in 2002-03. Despite ending up two places and ten points short of the 2001-02 finish, Jones rallied his team to achieve promotion as they defeated Reading 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-final and then Sheffield United 3-0 at the Millennium Stadium.
The season before, Wolves fell three points short of Albion in the race for automatic promotion before losing 3-2 on aggregate to Norwich in the play-off semi-finals.
Not much went right for Wolves when they and Jones arrived with the country’s cream. They remained win-less in their first seven Premier League games before eventually picking up a nice run of two draws and two wins, including the famous 4-3 comeback victory over Leicester. Unfortunately, for all of Jones’ tinkering and new signings, of which there were 12 according to Birmingham Mail records, the club finished 20th and last, their record of seven wins, 12 draws and 19 losses leaving them below Leicester and Leeds on goal difference.
2009-12: Returning in style
Mick McCarthy led Wolves back to the Premier League in style as they won the Championship with 90 points and a plus-28 goal difference. Birmingham finished runners-up but trailed in seven points behind.
With a team based on sensible signings, McCarthy developed a financially-friendly squad that could compete at the highest level. The nine goals from £6.84m signing Kevin Doyle tipped the scales, with wins coming in December against Bolton, Tottenham and Burnley, and at West Ham and Burnley in a late-season revival in which they took seven away points in 11 days.
Fifteenth place in 2009-10 meant Wolves lived to fight another year and they improved on their tally of wins and points (11 and 40 respectively), only for results elsewhere to leave them much closer to the trapdoor. Rather than clearing the relegation zone by eight points as they did in 2009-10, Wolves avoided the drop by a single point and that only after a pulsating Survival Sunday second half involving they and Birmingham.
Although centre-back Roger Johnson came in for £7.2m and the on-loan Jamie O’Hara joined permanently for £3.38m, as well as Dorus de Vries being recruited to back up Wayne Hennessey, Wolves lacked the strength to stave off relegation again in 2011-12 and McCarthy was released from his duties in the February. The club finished bottom, a full 12 points from safety after managing only five wins.
2018-?: Taking the league by storm
After buying Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer of 2016, Fosun International got to work funding the club and utilising their close relationship with super agent Jorge Mendes. The club brought in the immensely passionate Nuno Espirito Santo after Paul Lambert wrenched the team up from 18th at the start of the previous November to a final placing of 15th.
Under Santo, the team quickly became a power in the Championship, the club pulling off the remarkable signing of Ruben Neves among many others to give the Portuguese head coach what he needed.
With 99 points and a plus 43 goal diference, Wolves once again demolished the second tier to earn a place in the big league. And, a dozen or so games into the new season, Santo has led his further reinforced team to a promising start, with Betway recently quoting Wolves at 1/3 to finish in the top ten and 13/2 to end in the top six.
Either would easily achieve the club’s best Premier League finish. Wolves’ first two seasons in it both yielded ten points in the opening 12 games, with the more recent two bringing 11 by the same point, according to Transfermarkt. At the 12-match stage this time, the club had a much-improved tally of 16 on the board.
There seems every reason to hope Nuno can make this Premier League stay by far the best Molineux has known – and extend it well beyond the three seasons experienced under McCarthy.