Reliant On The Few – No Worries!
Thirteen players shared the scoring duties when Wolves won the Fourth Division in 1987-88 – and the same number did so when the Division Three crown was added 12 months later.
Which makes it quite extraordinary to consider how few players were on the score-sheet when the First Division title came to Molineux in 1953-54 for the first time.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Stan Cullis, behind the satisfaction of seeing his side become champions, might have torn the occasional strip off Roy Pritchard, Bill Shorthouse and even Billy Wright for not getting among the goals.
“And you three must have had your floppin’ eyes closed for most of the season” is a complaint we can almost imagine him making while telling Johnny Hancocks, Roy Swinbourne and Dennis Wilshaw that individual goal totals in the mid-20s were only a fraction of what they should have managed from all those chances!
So, without recourse to the record books, how many other players might we assume hit the target in that epic West Midlands campaign, when Wolves held off Albion’s challenge to take the big prize in an all-Black Country one-two?
Half a dozen? Eight maybe? Ten or more? Wrong. The answer is four.
The team who rattled in 96 goals in 42 League games at the rate of more than 2.5 per time amazingly relied on only seven different marksmen. Have any other team of champions ever had so few scorers?
It is the lowest number of scorers in a season in Wolves’ history, with Wilshaw leading the way on 26 and Swinbourne and Hancocks each two behind. Of the others, Peter Broadbent netted 12 times, Jimmy Mullen seven, Bill Slater twice and Leslie Smith crucially hit the target when doing much to turn a deficit into a 2-1 win at Newcastle in the autumn.
The reliance on a small number of players is illustrated by the fact Albion had ten different scorers in the same League campaign and Wolves had 11 when they reclaimed the crown in 1957-58 and 14 when they retained it the following spring.
Does the meagre 1953-54 spread tell us that Cullis didn’t want his defenders straying too far upfield? Or that the likes of Wright (13 goals in 490 League games for Wolves), Shorthouse (1 in 344), Jack Short (0 in 98) and Pritchard (0 in 202) just didn’t present a significant goal threat.
The closest Wolves have ever been to having as few different scorers in a League season was when only eight contributed to the ‘goals for’ column in 1948-49 and 1975-76.
To be strictly accurate, it was the same story in 1903-04 but that one was made up of only 34 matches.