Wolves still haven't achieved

WOLVERHAMPTON Wanderers have been the greatest under-achievers in Division One since Sir Jack Hayward started pouring in funds, said to have reached a total of around £75 million, to achieve his dream of Premiership football at Molineux.

WOLVERHAMPTON Wanderers have been the greatest under-achievers in Division One since Sir Jack Hayward started pouring in funds, said to have reached a total of around £75 million, to achieve his dream of Premiership football at Molineux.

The infrastructure is in place and the ground is magnificent. A succession of managers have been given the funds to produce a winning squad. Wolves continue to be inconsistent, yet promotion is still within their grasp this season, albeit through the play-offs.

They are one of a group of clubs who need only a run of victories to propel them into the top six. Ipswich Town, after recovering from a stuttering start to the season, are in much the same boat. This makes tonight's clash at Portman Road a genuine play-off "six-pointer."

The fact that Ipswich visit Molineux on March 5 means that these keen rivals have the opportunity to cause considerable damage to each other's chances.

Wolves, in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, can look forward to a trip to Southampton.

Maybe some of their players may be distracted, judging from a comment from the dressing room saying: "The boys feel the pressure a bit more in the league because maybe not everyone's as up for it as they are in the cup."

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In the present climate, when Premiership income is so important, Ipswich are perhaps fortunate to have their sights clearly set on one target.

Wolves look strong on paper with a blend of youth and experience, a recipe that so often leads to success. Despite this a 4-1 defeat at Brighton in their last away game only served to underline their inconsistency. Clearly they can be vulnerable, but their cup victories over Newcastle United and Leicester City show how they can rise to the occasion.

The experience is provided by Paul Ince in central midfield. The "Guv'nor," who is now 35, has seen it all before. He has 53 England caps and starred at West Ham, Manchester United, Inter Milan, Liverpool and Middlesbrough.

At the height of his career the Italian giants paid £7 million for his services and then sold him to Liverpool for £4.2 million. He still likes to put on his shirt just as the players are coming onto the pitch, a strange superstition.

Denis Irwin, the Republic of Ireland left-back for many years, is well known to Town boss Joe Royle from their Oldham days. Irwin left Manchester United last summer to help Wolves' latest promotion effort.

Younger players in defence include goalkeeper Matt Murray, a lad from Solihull who has developed through the youth scheme. Lee Naylor, also a former trainee, is one of the most under-rated players in the league.

Joleon Lescott, who is only 20, established himself in central defence alongside Paul Butler at the start of last season. Lescott has signed a four-year contract and won England Under-21 honours.

Butler's career started at Rochdale. He first played against Ipswich in the colours of Bury who sold him to Sunderland for £1 million. Peter Reid then let him move on to Wolves for a similar fee.

The midfield includes tricky Scottish international Colin Cameron who cost £1.75 million from Hearts after previous experience with Raith Rovers.

Right-winger Shaun Newton has caused Ipswich a few problems when he was a Charlton player, so the £850,000 fee looks a bargain.

Left-winger Mark Kennedy, with 34 Republic of Ireland caps, joined Wolves for £2 million from Manchester City. Quite a livewire both on and off the field, Kennedy has always caught the eye of scouts during a career that has seen him also play for Millwall, Liverpool and Wimbledon.

Kennedy is being wrapped in cotton wool at present because of an ongoing hamstring problem. He will fly out to see top German specialist Dr Hans Muller Wolfhart who has also treated the likes of Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Darren Anderton. This will happen at a convenient break in the club's hectic fixture schedule.

Wolves boss Dave Jones has admitted he may even have to rest Kennedy for certain games to ensure that he does not break down during the battle for a Division One play-off place.

Wolfhart was also responsible for saving the career of top Spanish golfer Jose Maria Olazabal after he had been suffering from chronic feet problems.

Up front George Ndah plays alongside Kenny Miller, a 22-year-old Scottish international who cost £3 million from Rangers. Wolves made the purchase with their eyes wide open because Miller had been on loan at Molineux. He is in sharp form at present with six goals in his last five games.

Nathan Blake is on his way back after suffering from damaged ligaments in his foot for three months. Another player who could be involved is abrasive midfielder Alex Rae who cost £1.2 million from Sunderland after starting his career with Falkirk and Millwall. Young Irishman Keith Andrews can also play in midfield.

Full-back Marc Edworthy, previously of Plymouth, Crystal Palace and Coventry City adds depth to the squad while strikers Adam Proudlock (former Wolves trainee) and the speedy Dean Sturridge will be in contention.

Reserve goalkeeper Michael Oakes cost £400,000 from Aston Villa and was a regular choice last campaign.

There has been a suggestion that Hassan Kachloul, the Moroccan international out of favour at Aston Villa, might join Wolves on loan. He is not there yet, but may be by the time the clubs meet at Molineux. Kachloul was the player who came so close to joining Ipswich, but then had second thoughts.

Wolves have lost on 19 of their 28 visits to Suffolk, but past history means little tonight.

Three EADT readers have each won a pair of tickets to tonight's match at Portman Road courtesy of TXU Energi.

Theresa Adams of Falkenham, Mr G Girling of Hadleigh and Mrs M Bacon of Stowmarket were drawn out as the winners after correctly answering the question in Saturday's EADT that Wolves' home ground is called Molineux.

Ipswich Town's Barclaycard Premier Reserve League (South) fixture against Derby County Reserves will be played at Portman Road next Tuesday (kick-off 7pm). It was originally scheduled for the following evening.

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