Wolves’ defensive record this season is currently the best in Sky Bet League One with only ten goals conceded in 18 games.
That solidity is the product of a team effort, but all starts from the man in between the posts – the very last line of defence.
And, as goalkeeping coach Pat Mountain explained in the programme for Tuesday’s game with Tranmere, Wolves are in a very healthy position when it comes to their senior keepers....
The goalkeeping department is one which hasn’t been short of quality at Molineux in the past few years.
Indeed the parade of glovemen from Mike Stowell – Wolves’ most used goalkeeper – to the current incumbents of what was traditionally the number one jersey is evidence alone that the club have never gone short in terms of ability between the sticks.
What is more – among the very best keepers Wolves have produced are those who have been nurtured through the club’s Academy.
Matt Murray was the first off that particular production line, and since then Wayne Hennessey and Carl Ikeme have excelled having graduated to senior football from the youth ranks at Molineux.
Aaron McCarey was also snapped up from across the Irish Sea while still in his teens, and is now pushing Ikeme hard having made an impressive Wolves debut earlier this season finishing up as the penalty hero in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win over Walsall. More on him and Hennessey later.
But it is Ikeme who has been the man in possession thus far, in truth building on an excellent campaign last time out in which he was among the contenders for Player of the Season up until the injury in March which finished his season.
Wolves’ Goalkeeping coach Pat Mountain, who relishes the challenge of working with such a talented trio of keepers, knows that the Birmingham-born 27-year-old will not be getting carried away.
“Carl is having a good season so far which is down to all the hard work that he does and the support he gets from the other goalkeepers, the Head Coach and all the other staff,” he says.
“We are all pleased with how he has performed and Carl is the same, but as a goalkeeper you always know there might be a kick up the backside just around the corner!
“So you have to keep working hard and keep focused.
“Carl had a very good season last time out up until getting injured in March.
“It was his first full season as the first choice goalkeeper and he grew into that role and is now one of the club’s most senior professionals who can also guide and help the younger players.
“The way he conducts himself and the way he works and prepares himself for games is something which the younger boys look up to.
“Everybody who has worked at Wolves knows what a fantastic goalkeeper Carl is and the ability that he has got.
“It is just that circumstances have dictated that he hasn’t had much of an opportunity apart from when he got in the team in 2008 and then got injured.
“Part of the work that we do together, along with the medical team, is keeping him out there on the pitch.
“With Carl it’s the case of getting him to do less rather than more because he also wants to train harder and stay out for longer and do more work.
“Since Kenny has come in he has been keen for our goalkeeper to get the ball out quickly – to throw it out further forward up the pitch and attack teams rather than go for a slow and patient build-up.
“That is something that Carl has worked on and improved on and knows he can improve on even further.
“It’s definitely another facet he has added to his game.”
If ever the dedication to high standards for Ikeme, and indeed the whole Wolves team, could be illustrated it came late on at Colchester when, 3-0 ahead with only minutes remaining, a penalty save was greeted by all with the same wild celebrations as a last gasp winner!
“Clean sheets are what you live by as a goalkeeper but it wasn’t just Carl’s reaction to that penalty save that was great to see,” adds Mountain.
“It was the reaction from the whole team and how pleased they were and how much they care about clean sheets as well as winning games.
“When a situation like that penalty save happens it is fantastic for everyone to see how much the team really do care about keeping a clean sheet and seeing a game through.”
With the intense competition for the goalkeeping spot Ikeme knows he has to maintain the same high standards he has shown over the last year-and-a-quarter.
Because not only does he have McCarey breathing down his neck but also Hennessey back on top form after a loan spell at Yeovil which banished some tough times after 15 months on the sidelines with injury.
“Wayne is back to his old self now,” says Mountain.
“And he has capped it off by getting his place back in the Wales team which means a lot to him.
“He’s got up to 40 caps now which is one of the targets set at the start of the season when we sit down and set the keeper a few targets to try and achieve.
“He is certainly getting back to his best the more football he is playing as you’d expect after 16 months out.
“I think the injury made Wayne appreciate what he has a lot more.
“A lot of people who have long-term injuries say that because you realise just how quickly it can be taken away from you.
“He has always worked hard but maybe his approach is even more diligent and he takes the lead in areas and things he has to do rather than being asked to do them.
“He has done all that and done his work really well which is why he is getting back to the keeper we all know he is.
“And with Wayne not being here since the start of the season you can see how good Carl is for Aaron and Aaron is for Carl.
“Carl does like working with the younger goalkeepers and Aaron really appreciates what Carl does for him.
“I know everyone says that goalkeepers support each other but it is true.
“You can see it from how for example Aaron can’t stop himself running onto the pitch after the Colchester game to congratulate Carl and likewise myself and Carl couldn’t contain our excitement when Aaron saved the penalties against Walsall.
“It means a lot to all of them when they see their colleague performing really well.”
When it comes to young goalkeepers coming through the ranks Wolves are leaving no stone unturned in the search for local talent.
Under-21s keeper Jonathan Flatt is the next one off the rank having progressed from being with the Wolves Academy since the age of eight to three appearances on the bench this season.
And, organised by Academy goalkeeping coach Paul Clements, a workshop was held recently primarily to share ideas with coaches and managers, and there are plans for a potential follow-up focusing specifically on young glovemen.
“Paul organised the workshop which went very well and we had our Under-21 keeper Jonathan Flatt come down and help which was great,” said Mountain.
“It’s always good to share ideas while another thing we do during school holidays is to get the Under-12 to 16 goalkeepers down here to see how the senior lads train and do their work.
“Then in the afternoon the young keepers do exactly the same session with the senior guys coaching them, and we had Carl, Flatty, Scott Dutton and Harry Burgoyne all involved, as Aaron was playing a game.
“It’s good both for the younger lads to see the quality of the training from the senior players and for them to have the responsibility of leading the coaching session themselves.”