Wolves v West Ham United

Preview Percy is still a bit poorly and we did suggest that he should rest up for, say, about five years while he recovers from the flu bug doing the rounds. Sadly he had time between doses of Lemsip to pen a few words on Wednesday night's trip to Wolves...

Next up it's up the M6 in the general direction of the Black Country where we will be hosted by Wolverhampton Wanderers. Kick-off is at the slightly earlier than usual time of 7:30pm on Wednesday due to the match being screened for the benefit of viewers up the Amazon or something. I wasn't really paying attention at the time.

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So Wolves then. Their season began about 20 years in the qualifying rounds for the Thursday Night League. As we well know you get to play a zillion games before breakfast just to qualify. Safely through that little lot their 3-3 draw away at group leaders Braga last week has ensured that they qualify for the knockout stages of the competition which should, by rights, really be known as the Thursday Night Cup.

All the pre-season faffing about in places such as Armenia, Northern Ireland and Italy seemed to have a bit of an effect on their start to the season. They opened up with a hat-trick of draws and a pair of defeats and didn't open their win account until the last week of September. In fact they are another of those clubs who would be first name down on the treble chance if it still exists (Ask your granddad) having drawn eight of their fourteen played so far in the league. This has all left them in sixth place, one place behind Spurs who seem to be using up all their season's luck in one go in scrambling to the current Thursday Night League qualification slot of fifth, the difference being a goal's worth of goal difference.

Daisy, the permanent assistant with the beautiful smile, informs me that, following their successful return to the top flight last season they brought in five first team players. To be precise they actually brought in three new players, two of the so-called new arrivals being Ruel Jiminez (?30m ex-Benfica) and Leander Dendoncker (?12m ex-Anderlecht) being the conversion of season-long loan deals.

The first real newcomer to arrive was Italian striker Patrick Cutrone, the fee is supposed to be undisclosed but is rumoured to be worth ?20m if all the add-ons come to fruition. Described by the Italians as an "old-fashioned number nine", Cutrone arrived on a four-year deal from AC Milan and has been capped at pretty much all age levels by the Azzuri though he has just the solitary full cap to date.

Wolves' determined bid to sign up every Portuguese player on the planet continued apace with the arrival of Bruno Jordao and Pedro Neto from Braga. The deal, involving as so much of their business does, Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes, seems to have been some sort of package deal, with a combined fee of ?18m being touted as the "undisclosed" figure. Jordao's not been seen since picking up an injury in the third round of the League Cup. Neto's been a bit luckier making a number of appearances albeit from the bench.

They also brought In a central defender on loan from Real Madrid in the form of Jesus Vallejo. He appeared in the qualifying rounds of the Thursday Night League all those years ago but hasn't been seen on the pitch since their league Cup exit at the hands of Villa. His rear end appears to be permanently welded to the racing car seats, which is where he spent Sunday afternoon during the 1-1 draw with Sheffield United, a match in which they seemed a little out of sorts by all accounts.

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They have three names appearing on the usual injury lists. Defender Ryan Bennett is rated as no better than 50/50 with a groin problem, whilst former Hammers target Willy Bony (stop sniggering at the back) is definitely out with a damaged ankle, er, bony. Midfielder and toothpaste manufacturer Morgan Gibbs-White will also miss out with a damaged back.

And so we move on to the wild and wacky world of Association Football. Germany, France and Portugal managed to draw each other in the same group for Euro 2020. Presumably they forgot to heat the balls up to the required temperature or something. Look I TOLD you stop sniggering.

Southampton's joy at getting their first win at home since April - so long ago the Thursday Night League qualification rounds hadn't started - might have been tempered by the knowledge that their stock has sunk so low that a defeat by them is looked on by Watford as a sackable offence. Sanchez-Flores was "let go" as the Hornets move on to their third manager of the season in the form of ex-Hammer Hayden Mullins. It's likely that their fourth boss will be along before long, Mullins' job title being "Interim Manager" at present.

The Premier League has put back the proposed 13 December announcement of when each club will be having its midwinter week off due to take place in February. The reason given was that there are European fixtures to finalise. Why, it's almost as if they didn't realise that there were European fixtures to arrange. Meanwhile my predictions are that a) they may well get around to announcing the fixture changes by June; and b) when the midwinter break occurs clubs will find their grounds snowbound when they are due to play, and perfectly playable on their week off. It's gonna happen isn't it?

Talking of predictions, mine was just a little bit off last week wasn't it Gloriously so one might say. Who'd have thought that I'd be looking back on a strong and disciplined performance that ran all the way through the team. And who'd have thought that playing with a specialist goalkeeper between the sticks would pay such dividends? Apart from everyone?

Everyone will have by now seen the heart-warming scenes of Martin climbing up into the stand to meet his Dad. However, the scene that stuck in my mind happened before the match even started. Noble beckoned Martin over and stuck an arm around him, giving a few words of wisdom in the process. Whatever he said as a pep talk, it was a good spot of skippering and Martin earned his win bonus.

If one were to be really churlish - and I'm not - one might say that the triple save he made in the first half did arise in part because he failed to deal with the original shot. You'll have me to answer to if you insist on taking that stance. He kept the ball out and the two follow up saves were as brave as a punter sticking his life savings on a 1-0 away win.

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Bright spots, apart from Martin, were the form of Rice - described as a "monster" by Preview Alastair and that of Antonio, who was most unfortunate not to get on the score sheet. There are times when he may not be the most subtle of players but his movement and strength up front gave the home defence plenty to think about over the 90 minutes. He's been much missed over the past couple of months and one hopes that the "slight thigh strain" he came off with isn't anything too serious. He had run his socks off by the time he was taken off and looked so knackered I was wondering if they might send a cab for him to get to the touchline.

So, to summarise, a team that looked about as interested as an intelligent person plonked in front the box to binge watch ten hours of soap operas or Strictly Come bloody Dancing, suddenly transformed into a hard-working team willing to put in the miles both on and off the ball. It baffles me even after all these years.

In addition to the doubt on Antonio the usual four of Lanzini, Fabianski, Wilshere and Reid are likely to be absent, though the latter two have statistically insignificant chances of making an appearance.

Of course one should remember that one swallow doesn't make a summer and all that and we will need this sort of form to become the rule rather than the exception it has been for much of the last couple of months. Which is why my thoughts are more on the cautious side of things when I consider my prediction for this one.

Wolves seemed to have a hangover from their European exploits at the weekend and will have had one day less of recovery under their belt. On the other hand they do tend to attack with pace - Traore is likely to be a particular threat - which is the sort of thing we have struggled with of late. Still our tails will be justifiably be up after Saturday.

So, on balance, I am of a mind to think that they will maintain their status as treble chance bankers (look if your granddad didn't explain it earlier I'm damned if I am going to it for you now). Mr Winstone, please take the ?2.50 I was going to put on Germany France and Portugal being drawn in the same group and place it on a score draw. Let's say 1-1 shall we?

Enjoy the game!

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When Last We Met At Molineux: Lost 3-0 (Premier League April 2019)

"It is impossible to play worse" was MP's summing up of a match in which we managed no shots at all, though there have been occasions this season when we have looked like giving it a bloody good go. A Jimenez pair after Saiss's opener, all in the second half gave the home side an easy three points.

Referee: Andre Marriner

Was the country's first VAR official, thus proving that if, you give a bad referee a load of technology you end up with the same old rubbish only an hour later.

Danger Man: Adama Traore

Pacy and tricky - probably best to not repeat that "let's recall Zabaleta to deal with their fast man" experiment then.

Percy's Poser

Last time out we left you with a headline from the Indian media which read:

Indian minister slams loose morals of XXXXXXXXX XXXXX

Well done to Mrs Gertrude Normalname of Stock for identifying the missing words as "immigrant bulls". Apparently, those who sneak into India from elsewhere don't have the same moral rectitude as those of local stock. And no I have no idea how such things are measured.

This week, in honour of the advent of, well, Advent, we play a round of "guess who is starring in provincial pantomime in their neck of the woods." All you have to do is identify the missing stars from the following major news story from the Wolverhampton Express & Star:

"Pantomime stars XX XXXXXXX and XXXXXXX XXXXXXX open Dudley Zoo's Santa's Grotto"

Good luck everyone!

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