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First Team

Media View: Expert insight on Wolves


AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be looking to take another step towards securing a club-record points total in the Premier League when they face Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday (7.45pm kick-off).

The Cherries have five games remaining and are currently 13th with 42 points, four shy of their top-flight best which came when they finished ninth in 2016/17.

Victory over Wolves at Molineux would see the Cherries leapfrog the hosts and propel them to tenth place ahead of Fulham and Brighton, the Seagulls hosting Manchester City on Thursday.

Gary O’Neil’s team came back from 1-0 down to triumph 2-1 at Vitality Stadium in October thanks to second-half goals from Matheus Cunha and Sasa Kalajdzic.

Defeat left the Cherries in the relegation zone before seven wins and a draw from their next nine games took Andoni Iraola’s team into tenth position.

Since triumphing in Dorset in the autumn, Wolves have won nine and drawn five of their 24 games, including doing the double over both Tottenham and Chelsea.

They host the Cherries on the back of taking five points from their past seven games – a 2-1 home win over Fulham and draws on their travels at Burnley and Nottingham Forest.

Ahead of Wednesday’s clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Mike Taylor who covers the fortunes of Wolves for BBC Radio West Midlands.


Founded: 1877

Ground: Molineux Stadium

Nicknames: Wolves

Record appearances: Derek Parkin – 609 games (1968-1982)

Record goalscorer: Steve Bull – 306 goals in 561 games

Manager: Gary O’Neil (appointed August 2023)

Club captain: Maximilian Kilman

League position: 11th

Leading goalscorer: Matheus Cunha (13 in all competitions)

Last game: Wolves 0 Arsenal 2 (Premier League)

afcb.co.uk: How would you assess their current form in the Premier League?

MT: It’s dropped a little bit of late.

There was a point about four or five weeks ago where they seemed to be on the fringe of pushing for Europe. That was very exciting and way ahead of any expectations at the start of the season.

That has dropped and it’s partly due to some of the injuries they’ve had and some of them are high profile.

Losing Pedro Neto again, Matheus Cunha has been out of the picture in the past few weeks and Hwang Hee-chan has only recently returned to fitness.

Losing those three at the same time really hurt them and they’ve had one or two other injuries as well.

So that has affected the form of late but, taken over the season as a whole, they have still had a much more successful season than people expected and feared in August.

afcb.co.uk: Irrespective of where they finish, have they exceeded supporters’ expectations?

MT: Way over!

And the club’s expectations as well.

It was very plain at the start of the season that the objective for Gary O’Neil was to keep them up.

He arrived only just before the first game in difficult circumstances and, frankly, a lot of spectators didn’t think he and the players would be able to do that.

They’ve done it with a great deal to spare so have hugely exceeded expectations.

Things were said about O’Neil’s lack of previous experience that now, in hindsight, look very unfortunate.

He has proved all of his doubters wrong multiple times over. It’s been an excellent season.

afcb.co.uk: How would you sum up Gary O’Neil’s first season at the helm?

MT: He has steered the club to safe waters. On an individual level, he has proven to people that he is capable of doing the job and the job he did at Bournemouth last season was by no means a fluke.

He is a hugely credible figure now, not just around Wolves but around the Premier League. He has dug the club out of a very difficult situation.

Even the chairman at the start of the season talked about how they would have to approach it like a newly-promoted club and the objective was to stay in the league.

Under O’Neil’s stewardship, and he would say it’s not all down to him, but clearly he’s the figurehead and the one who has managed to guide the players through, they have done far better than that.

Most of all, he has shown us what a good communicator he is. He’s clearly a good communicator with the supporters and the football public generally.

Those supporters who doubted him to start with are now entirely understanding him as you can hear inside Molineux.

Clearly, he has communicated with the players. If there were any doubts among the players when he arrived as to whether he could replace Julen Lopetegui at short notice, it wasn’t very long before it was obvious that the players were getting his messages.

All round, he has managed to impress everyone and exceed any expectations that were set.

afcb.co.uk: Who would get your vote for player of the season? 

MT: There are quite a few for this.

Mario Lemina is very high on the list, simply by force of will. He is the leader of the team.

He doesn’t necessarily wear the armband but he is the leader among leaders on the field and the one who makes it happen.

In terms of the power of personality to drag them through some difficult games, Lemina is definitely high up.

Neto’s explosiveness puts him firmly as a contender but my selection is Matheus Cunha (pictured above).

We recognised he was talented at the end of last season but it wasn’t quite clear what his role was going to be.

He has now developed into a front-rank Premier League striker, a player who can play across the forward line.

With a number of good contenders, some of whom I haven’t named, Cunha would be my selection at the moment.

afcb.co.uk: Tell us the story about Wes Okoduwa (pictured above) being on the bench against Arsenal? 

MT: He was also on the bench at Newcastle a few weeks ago, the youngest of a clutch of players to have been involved this season.

He’s not yet 16 and Gary O’Neil mentioned in his press conference ahead of the Arsenal game that they were sufficiently short of players they could name on the team sheet and they had pull him out of a science lesson.

Gary said he hoped he’d enjoy being at training a bit more than science  I don’t know whether science is one of his favourite subjects or not but it certainly wasn’t the school day he would have been expecting!

We haven’t yet seen Okoduwa on the field but, if we do in the next few weeks, he would become the youngest player to appear in a first-team game for Wolves, a record which has stood since before the Second World War.

The story made him an unlikely star in a way, even before he’s kicked a ball for the first team.

It’s a symptom of the problems Wolves have had in the past few weeks but I’m sure it was an enormously exciting opportunity for him and for the other teenagers who have been in the squad recently.

afcb.co.uk: Who is their unsung hero this season?

MT: That’s a tough one because all the names have been sung very loudly. I’ll go with Nélson Semedo (pictured above).

Although he has had quite a lot of singing of his name of late, he’s a player whose steady improvement throughout the season has surprised quite a few people and it’s made him a clear first-choice selection.

He came to Wolves from Barcelona in 2020 and was a Portugal international so you would think he had some pedigree.

But he wasn’t a player who had hugely impressed Wolves fans until the start of this season.

This season, he’s been steady and consistent and increasingly offered more attacking off the right-hand side.

Right now, I think I’d go for him but there are very few unsung heroes at the moment and every player has had his name sung at Molineux during the course of the season.

afcb.co.uk: Are any key players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?

MT: Speaking at his pre-match press conference earlier today, Gary O’Neil said they were moving in the right direction in terms of injuries.

Nélson Semedo and Matheus Cunha both missed the Arsenal game but could be ready to return against Bournemouth.

Jean-Ricner Bellegarde has been out since the start of March but is also making good progress, according to O’Neil.

He said Rayan Aït-Nouri, who came off the bench for a few minutes against Arsenal, could be fit enough to start, as could Pablo Sarabia and Mario Lemina who both came on in the second half against the Gunners.

Pedro Neto (pictured above) and Craig Dawson will not feature.

afcb.co.uk: How do you see this one panning out and what’s your score prediction? 

MT: Wolves are due a win and will be pretty fired up to do it.

They may have a stronger side out than they have in the past few weeks so I am going to go for a 2-1 win to Wolves.

You can follow Mike on X – @miketaylorsport

Officials: Stuart Attwell (referee), James Mainwaring (assistant), Nick Greenhalgh (assistant), Robert Jones (fourth official), Darren England (VAR).


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