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Old Haunts, New Pleasures

24 November 2012

Definitely one of those ‘Were you there?’ games!

And to think the last time I came here I said I’d never come back!

Words well and truly eaten. Around twelve years ago I had seen two thoroughly nasty encounters here, featuring red cards galore and controversy aplenty with one of the most unsporting goals ever scored (the culprit now languishing as a guest of Her Majesty seems an appropriate post-script). Then up pops an old friend from school days (big Wolves fan) and after several hours recalling mis-spent youth the kind invitation to enjoy this fixture comes up.

After many weeks exchanging emails with my old school pal, with both of us trying to talk down our chances of winning this fixture (Wolves’ current winless run and generally struggling to adjust to life back in the second tier rather like us twelve years ago, and our awful record at Molineux having failed to win there for 32 years) I concluded this would be a difficult one to call. Moreover, I had to exercise a good deal of diplomacy today as he was hosting a table in one of the executive suites, and as one of his guests I’d have to be on my best behaviour today, although the need to dispense with certain matchday rituals was a small price to pay for an experience I was unlikely to forget, whatever the result of the game. In a nutshell, the pre-match hospitality was fantastic, and I had to admit that – for me at least – a Forest win today would be something of a bonus, however badly we needed it.

Fixture
FLC, Saturday 24th Nov 2012, 1500
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 – 2 Nottingham Forest
Venue
Molineux
Weather/Conditions
Shocking, rained in torrents throughout the game, with plenty of surface water especially towards the South Bank (though nothing like as bad as a certain Polish venue a few weeks ago).
Away fan experience
For yours truly this was a totally different experience from the norm.  As a guest of one of the match sponsors I had the Molineux hospitality in all its glory to enjoy.  This included a tour of the stadium as it slowly came to life, including a walk through the players tunnel and the brand new Stan Cullis stand, past the two stands where we witnessed two of the worst horror shows around 11 years ago, and photo calls next to the dugouts. A very interesting tour and Harry the host/guide an absolute top guy, even when he couldn’t resist some banter with the sole visiting fan in his group.  Whilst eating lunch in the executive suite after the tour, I couldn’t help notice the Forest fans beginning to take their seats far earlier than the locals, prompting the opinion that Wolverhampton remains distinctly devoid of away fan-friendly watering holes. Watching the game from the opposite side of the pitch from them today inevitably I felt somewhat detached, though there was no doubt they were in good voice just like every away match I’ve attended this season.
acilitiesF
The facilities I have to say were first class, though I suspect there wasn’t much demand for the Police cells under the South Bank, even if they were the warmest part of the ground visited. The public areas looked pretty state-of-the-art, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether we’ll see the facilities and fare back at City Ground be brought up to date anytime soon since next to nothing seems to have changed over the last ten years (except for the rising prices, of course).
Programme
Another impressive publication, of similar quality to those at Huddersfield and Blackpool, though points lost for the relatively scant coverage of the visitors – this I thought was the point of matchday programmes to at least set the scene for the forthcoming fixture.
The Match
Needless to say at this stage I was glad I was not relying on my hosts for a lift home having now assumed the role of party pooper. The travelling fans opposite were in full flow and sang their way through the remainder of the match we showed little sign of losing grip of, despite a heart-stopping moment when a Sako cross sailed across Camp’s goal without anyone able to connect with it (sounds a bit like us on one of ‘those days’) and a couple of free kicks at close range near the end. Solbakken threw on Ebanks-Blake with 15 to go, but the muttering of the Wolves fans all around suggested this was too little too late, and so it proved. But why should we care about that? We were witnessing an end to a 32-year wait for a win here – both my host and I were still at school the last time that happened!
As Cox dropped back a little for the start of the second half I did wonder if we’d be able to carve them open, even though we were playing miles better than we did against Wednesday or The Foxes. That feeling of doubt however completely evaporated (unlike the surface water) when, in the 57th minute, we took the lead in spectacular fashion. A perfect pass from Cohen out wide on the left from the halfway line to Guedioura who advanced a few yards before unleashing an unstoppable pile driver from 25 yards.  I could scarcely believe we were actually in the lead at a venue so long our biggest bogey ground. Credit to Guedioura who remained composed out of respect for his erstwhile Wolves fans (credit to them who applauded the goal too) as he disappeared under several red shirts. I on the other hand, could not contain my joy amid a sea of icy stares, and neither could David Johnson in the commentary box a few feet to my right as I caught him grinning from ear to ear – a truly priceless moment!
No denying we made a pretty poor start, with slack defending from a Jermaine Pennant pass giving Sigurdarson acres of space to slot the ball past Camp after just six minutes, and my friends wasted no time in lapping it up amid plenty of delighted home fans, as you’d expect.  So when Lansbury made a beautiful long sweeping pass towards an advancing Billy Sharp, the mood all around me changed to one of horror as the boot clearly switched to the other foot.  Billy’s timing to beat the offside trap was perfect as he slipped his marker before planting a perfectly placed shot past Ikeme. A typical poacher’s goal. 1-1, and as the delighted travelling fans celebrated opposite, I gave out a controlled but delighted yelp before exchanging high-fives with a clearly delighted Forest fan sat behind me. Meanwhile the game developed into a highly entertaining encounter with both sides creating chances, with Forest having marginally the better of them, though for Wolves’ poor shooting (Sako ballooning the ball into Row Z) and another match-saving stop by Collins we might have been trailing at the break. But don’t go thinking we were the underdogs: we weren’t. Both keepers were busy and had Sharp and Cox connected better with the chances set up for them there’s no telling what the score might have been by HT. All the same, I was still delighted at HT to have actually seen us score at Molineux, having never in my previous three visits (the earliest dating back to 1974) seen Wolves concede a home goal.
Highlights
Both goals out of the top drawer – you couldn’t have written the script any better with Guedioura’s winner. Billy’s goal was pretty special too.
Lowlights
As has often been the case with memorable victories – this one didn’t come without cost when Cox was stretchered off less than ten minutes after we took the lead. The tackle itself didn’t look bad, though the conditions would undoubtedly have played a part. Worrying, nonetheless.
Hero
Just had to be Guedioura – not just for his stunning winner, but for the way he controlled midfield – and being able to keep out of the referee’s notebook. Good on ‘yer, Guedioura!
Zero
Not a chance – this was a great team effort.
Referee
Roger East – showed restraint with the cards (presumably allowing for the atrocious conditions) meaning Lansbury was arguably fortunate not to walk for a tackle shortly before the break, as was Doyle for kicking the ball away having already been booked. Let the game flow as much as possible and in the circumstances did a great job.
Entertainment Value8/10 – the first half was end-to-end with Forest doing well to control the ball in difficult conditions. A little less fluent after the break, but we looked more in control. I’m sure many fans of Premiership clubs would happily have swapped places to watch this one.
Promotion Rating
1 – Aw, Gawd! During the last week’s email exchanges with my old school pal I really stuck my neck out by saying we were as good as promoted if we won this one (so no pressure then, guys!).  Seriously though, a rapid fight back from conceding an early goal and then going on to win the way we did today has got to bode well. Better still, our points tally compared with three seasons ago has followed an identical path for two consecutive weeks. At this stage back then we were around 8th place and 10 points adrift of Newcastle. Tonight we lie in 7th spot, just eight points adrift of Cardiff, so definitely going into the right direction as Christmas approaches.
Misc
Not surprisingly the mood back in the Sir Jack’s suite afterwards was distinctly subdued, reflected in the time it took for the Wolves skipper to emerge from the dressing room for the post-match presentations and deliver a low-key verdict on the game. I had thoroughly enjoyed my day with excellent food, hospitality and company to match, and although I couldn’t help but feel ever so slightly guilty as the party-pooper, there had still been that feeling that if that long, long winless run at Molineux was going to come to an end, then what better occasion than today?

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