Since Wolves won the Championship in 2009 it’s been evident that reinforcements have been required to bolster the back four to cope with the relentless pressures of a Premier League that doesn’t take pity on repeated nervy and panicky defensive blunders. On numerous occasions last season, points were thrown away due to such errors but with two clean sheets from three league games this season, things appear to be on the up. New signing Roger Johnson’s flourishing partnership with Christophe Berra in the centre looks set to lay the foundations for a more unified back line plus with the possibility of a soon to be returning Ronald Zubar at right back, all that is seemingly required to finally take us from Championship to Premier League defensive solidarity is a left back. Or is it?
We all love George Elokobi for his endeavour and obvious displays of passion for the old gold, but sometimes he isn’t quite up to the task against the elite of the league. But, in our other left back, the ever-improving Stephen Ward, do we already have the answer to our previous left sided frailties within our current ranks? Ward has always played with his heart and his willingness to “put in a shift” for the shirt is unrivalled, but sometimes he like Elokobi has been ‘found out’. Signed as a forward, Ward was converted to a left back upon Elokobi’s injury away to Ipswich at the start of our Championship winning season, hence why I, like many Wolves fans have always expected Mick McCarthy to sign another, more established left back since cementing our Premier League status for what is now a third season. Sure, Wolves briefly tried to plug the supposed left sided gap with the heavily inked homesick Jelle Van Damme, but here we are, three seasons on, and Stephen Ward still proudly holds the left back jersey.
With the transfer window now slammed shut, once more we go into winter with this repositioned Irishman at left back. This season however, despite previous links with Paul Konchesky, Ryan Bertrand et al, it all seems a little different, a little calmer. For the first time, I’m pleased that Stephen Ward is first choice, he has been outstanding in our opening fixtures.
He obviously scored an impressive goal on the opening day away to Blackburn, his six yard box scramble saved an inevitable goal against Fulham whilst against Villa it was Ward’s attacking instinct that shone brighter than England hopeful Matt Jarvis down the Wolves left.
He looks stronger having filled out his upper body, an obvious requirement if you are a Wolves left back judging by Elokobi’s stacked physique. Ward is more confident than ever, he strides forward purposefully with attacking intent and gives opposing sides more to worry about than simply doubling up on Jarvis or kicking Stephen Hunt. His improved levels of self-belief and performance could perhaps be because he has finally been recognised by Ireland as a full international (at left back), whilst defensively Ward’s positional play has enhanced alongside the vocal orders of captain Johnson. But I think that most of all, Ward’s improvement is down to his own hard work, the hours on the training pitch and willingness to take on the wisdom offered from Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor. Oh, and he can always be stuck up-front for the odd goal at Anfield can’t he?