It’s the first Matt Murray column of 2016, and the big man is back with plenty of opinions on life at Wolves and beyond. Here the former Wolves keeper and now Nike Academy coach and Sky Sports pundit talks current form, Jordan Graham, the January transfer window, Leicester City and Gary Neville!
RUN OF RESULTS
Last time I did a column for the Wolves website was just before the Reading game, when we had suffered a couple of bad defeats.
And then we went on a run of four successive victories to really raise morale and confidence levels.
In the Championship you can easily go on a run of losing, but in the same way you can put together a winning run which can lift you right up the table.
You can see in the Reading game that Kenny was really valuing the clean sheet and maybe sacrificed a bit of attacking intent to try and bring about a clean sheet.
We were hard to beat and that has been important in recent weeks.
I was at Brighton on New Year’s Day and I loved that.
I loved the way the lads dug in and how hard they worked for each other.
I thought Carl Ikeme was outstanding, at the back of a proper team performance.
Wolves fans respect hard work just as much as they do flair, and they understand that is a big side of the game.
There have been three draws now which have been a bit disappiointing.
They could have won it at Reading and then particularly against Bolton, even when not playing well to get 2-0 up against a side low on confidence who haven’t won away, you expect to see that game out.
That was very disappointing.
To see Tommy Rowe back was a bit of a surprise but fair play to him – he has kept working hard, done well on his loan spell and come back into the squad.
I am sure Jordan Graham was absolutely devastated to pick up his cruciate injury against Cardiff because he was flying.
He was proving a real find and probably the biggest positive of Wolves’ season so far.
I know what it is like to have injuries – it is so unfair, so cruel, they never come at the right time.
With Jordan you are just feeling for him and thinking ‘come on man’ – because at the time of his injury he was ripping it up and making a real name for himself.
He was our ‘go to’ player on the pitch, he was the one who was making things happen.
I watched him against Brighton on New Year’s Day where he was outstanding, in and out of possession.
When I heard the news about picking up the injury in such an innocuous way I was devastated.
Now he will need to get his head down and work hard, as I am sure he will.
And he has got fantastic staff there to work with at Wolves.
They really care, and Wolves is a club that supports injured players as I know myself from painful experience.
The club have given him a new deal which is great, because it really takes the pressure off.
There is always a club wanting to protect its asset but they didn’t have to do that.
It is telling Jordan what the club thinks of him, and saying ‘don’t worry about the future, just worry about getting fit.’
I think that is fantastic from Jez, Kevin, the gaffer – everyone involved.
It was great to see Kortney get a new deal as well and with him now fit again to see him back will be brilliant.
THE NEW BOYS – AND A STRIKER IN….
It was great to see Joe Mason get off the mark, and so quickly as well on his debut against Bolton.
I have watched Joe a lot, and have commentated on him,
He is very highly-rated and definitely has a lot of ability.
Now it is about him hitting the ground running and stepping up to be a number one striker.
To go for big money from one Championship team to another, you have got to be looking to play week-in week-out and really impose yourself.
I know he didn’t start at Reading but I think it is about him being match fit and robust, playing week-in week-out to support Siggy or Alfie or whichever striker he is in the team with.
We want him to score goals for us because in this league he has gone for a lot of money, more than Benik Afobe cost a year ago.
Joe is a young man and I can see what the hype is about but now it is about showing his quality on a consistent basis because he is a very good footballer.
Mike Williamson is a fantastic signing.
It is just a shame he can’t come straight in because of his injury.
And also Zyro being injured, because he was flying!
He gave us a physical presence as well as his other qualities.
It is unfortunate because when you make signings at this stage of the window you are always hoping they will have an immediate impact.
We saw Zyro do that, but now he is out for a few weeks and that is unfortunate.
….AND A STRIKER OUT…
Football is a business, we are all fans but we also know that.
And by saying that I mean that every player has their price.
To bring a player in and then sell him a year later for five or six times more – most people would say that is a pretty good investment!
Then it becomes about trying to spend that money to re-invest in the team.
It is also about people’s lives and people’s careers.
It is up to Benik Afobe to keep kicking on.
He has had a meteoric rise over the last year-and-a-half and he will want to keep that going.
He has started well in the Premier League, scoring goals straight away, having looked nervous on his debut and missed a couple of chances he would usually take.
He is a goalscorer and he has physical presence and he did well for Wolves.
His example is something the other lads can look that in terms of that rise.
They can see what he has done in his game and be looking to do the same, but hopefully in their cases being able to get to the Premier League with Wolves.
…AND ANOTHER STRIKER BACK IN THE MIX
What it shows you with Bjorn Sigurdarson is that Kenny never closes the door to anyone.
For all the other lads out on loan or who have been out on loan, like Tommy Rowe and George Saville who have come back, or Lee Evans who is still out, the door is not shut.
The last time I was at Compton Park I saw Siggy in the gym and I was like ‘whoa, I had forgotten about you!’
He has had a bit of a haircut and I did a bit of a double-take – I thought he had gone!
He absolutely smashed with his performances over in Scandinavia and he has shown signs over here but it is about doing it on a consistent basis.
He is a young guy with so much talent and the physical attributes and he is also a lovely guy as well – the lads like him and the fans like him.
Having that physicality in the Championship is very important and I think it is important generally in modern day football.
Bjorn has that, and can be effective in both boxes.
Hopefully he can get a regular run in the team and help Wolves up the table.
The main thing for him is to enjoy his football again, give it 100 per cent and then see what happens.
FROM HERE TO THE RUN-IN
Can we make the play-offs? You would have to say it’s a tall order.
Whatever happens you have definitely got to be looking to finish the season positively.
Players individually will want to do well and show they can be part of it for next year.
But I don’t think you rule anything out just at the moment.
The Championship is crazy.
We have seen teams go on really good runs in the last few years and then other teams who have been up there ‘bottling it’ instead.
So it is not over yet.
The lads have shown they can win four on the bounce – if we did that again now we would be right in the mix, especially if you take points off teams that are around you.
Until it is mathematically over, you have to keep going, and see where it takes you.
Leicester have kept a largely settled side and taken the momentum from the way they finished last season into this season.
Like a lot of people I wondered whether they would be in trouble this season when they brought in the Tinkerman! (Claudio Ranieri).
Credit to him, he hasn’t changed much – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
All the players know their jobs and they do their jobs.
You’ve got the stars like Mahrez and Vardy but for me every player, every week. is producing performances at eight or nine out of ten.
Their success shows how recruitment is massive.
Look at Mahrez – what a snip. Look at Vardy – what a snip.
Kante cost a bit more but he is the signing of the season for me.
They are all working hard, they have that real togetherness.
Of course my old Wolves pal Mike Stowell is the goalkeeping coach there, and he has to take a lot of credit.
Because in my opinion, Kaspar Schmeichel has been in awesome form and makes save after save when called upon.
You’ve got the two defenders in front of him in Morgan and Huth, who know exactly what they are doing.
I think they have got a really nice balance and it shows you can play 4-4-2 as well and be successful.
I have really enjoyed watching them, and you have to take them seriously now in terms of the title.
You go to Manchester City and turn them over like that – you have to take them seriously.
Everyone has been waiting for that bubble to burst, and, considering what people felt at start of the season, if they finish in the top four it will be unbelievable.
But they are favourites for the title now, and rightly so.
I still can’t quite believe that they will win it, but probably the only reason I am saying that is because it is Leicester City!
Like Slaven Bilic says, if they didn’t have that name, you would have to think they can win it.
But you still find it difficult to believe.
Bottom of the league this time last year, and now top and a few points clear – it’s crazy!
What a great story it is, and would be, if they went on to win it.
ONE HOTSEAT TO ANOTHER
Gary Neville is someone I have seen around at St George’s Park but he is not someone I have sat down and chatted with.
He is someone who I have ultimate respect for.
For me he is the best footballing pundit. I love listening to him and learn so much from listening to him.
I think his analysis is bang on with all its detail.
He has done well as a coach with England and I have massive respect for him for taking the Valencia job.
He could have stayed in his comfort zone, but he decided he was going to put his head above the parapet and have a go at it.
He has never once said he is the guru and that everything he says is right.
And he has gone out there into a different league, different culture, different language, and that is a challenge.
Especially at a club of such stature as well with such massive expectations.
Yes they got battered by Barcelona but by all accounts their other performances have been decent and they just haven’t converted them into results.
Gary understands the pressure and the nature of the position he is in, and he has kept his dignity.
Like all football, it is fine lines.
Every time I watch the highlights I am thinking: ‘how on earth have they not got anything from this game?’
At least he is over there and he is having a go – if you are him, with his credentials, and an opportunity like that comes up you have got to have a go.
Until you have a go you will never know. And he will certainly have no regrets.
Hopefully it will work out but if it doesn’t he will learn from it and be better for it and he will go on and get another fantastic job in the future.
You cannot have that much knowledge, be that good a communicator and have that much presence, not to be able to succeed, and I am sure he will.
He knows he has to turn it around, and that it is a footballing world which he understands more than anybody in terms of how volatile it can be.
Unfortunately for him things aren’t quite happening for him on the pitch, but that’s football.
It doesn’t mean that he is a bad coach or a bad pundit – it is just not quite happening for him at the moment., but I am sure that it will.
As you may have seen on Twitter, I am pleased to be joining Soccer Saturday legend Jeff Stelling next month, as he walks ten marathons in ten days from Hartlepool to Wembley.
Jeff is walking the ‘Men United March’ in aid of Prostate Cancer UK, the Football League’s charity partner.
I am planning to join him on Day 7 of the challenge, on Saturday March 26th, walking from Wolves to Birmingham City via the other West Midlands clubs and yes, including West Bromwich Albion!
This is such an important charity, and Jeff is aiming to raise £100,000 from this walk. If you can support him please visit the link https://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/prostatecancer/MenUnitedMarch/
And feel free to pop along and say hello on the day! Not to mention giving me a bit of a push!