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Tuesday 20th December 2022 ko 20:00

EFL Cup 4th Round

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS 2 (Jiminez 77p Ait Nouri 90)


Att 26,953

Entry £15

Programme £4

Age certainly does creep up on you. Sometimes it’s your nephews seeing that The Specials’ Terry Hall had died and not knowing who he was, other times its looking back and thinking “Was it really that long ago?” For me Molineux definitely was the latter.

I remember my first visit well, in February 1993, as Oxford United won 1-0 with the goal coming from the late Joey Beauchamp. I was, perhaps as you’d expect, in the away end, and our section of the South Bank was the only part open and two other sides were closed to fans, functionally derelict. But to our right the two-tiered John Ireland, now the Steve Bull Stand loomed large, slightly curved to improve sight-lines and a vision of golden modernity.

Its construction in 1979 came close to bankrupting Wolves, and the club had been relegated 3 times in 3 seasons saw them playing Fourth Division football in 1986. Eventually Jack Hayward’s purchase of the club in 1990 saw the ground redeveloped on all four sides. I got well used to visiting for Oxford United’s annual hammering but finding the stadium awe-inspiring.

But the two clubs were on different trajectories, so it had been nearly 20 years since I’d been. But my wife Robyn is building towards her 92, and we’ve long since learned that cup competitions a cost-effective and useful way of visiting high-profile and often sold-out stadia. Here we even booked parking through the club, which added up to a patch of waste ground behind a “Wickes” a 10 minutes’ walk from the ground. It was unusual, but it worked well.

The fact that it was a cup game, did throw a few people, not least the motorist that parked up near turnstile block 4, and hadn’t spotted the notices. His car was dragged, tyres squealing abuse at the indignity of it all, on to a low loader. I wonder how the driver was reunited with his property?

Being in the Steve Bull Stand was odd; as the John Ireland Stand, it looked the epitome of modernity when I saw it back in the day. But that was 30 years ago, and while it still looks wonderful, you cannot help but notice that the concourses are narrow by today’s standards, and the seats are packed in. I’m certainly not slender, but sitting in a full stand was not a comfortable experience for either Robyn or I. I can see why the plan is to demolish the stand and build a stand to link up in a sweep to the newly two-tier Stan Cullis Stand behind the northern goal. I never thought I’d ever see that stand as outmoded; I feel old just thinking it.

Of course the issue with cup games is that you can get some gigantic mis-matches, who could forget our trip to Brentford vs Oldham  18 months ago? There was a similarity too, Oldham and Gillingham were rock-bottom of League 2 coming into the tie. The difference though was that here the hosts had only managed to score 8 league goals all season, some statistic when the likes of Diego Costa is in the squad.

It was Robyn who wryly pointed out that the last time we’d seen him, was for his final game for Chelsea- the 2017 FA Cup Final. Here he looked a lifetime away from the pugnacious front man of old, his contribution added to little more than a solitary turn-and-shot and he was replaced with 10 minutes left.  Certainly new Wolves manager, Julen Lopetegui will have seen little to suggest that he will solve his team’s lack of prowess in front of goal.

Gillingham came with a straightforward plan, to put 10 behind the ball, and sole forward Hakeem Adelekun worked hard to hold the ball up but it was odd to see the tactics being devised by a manager whose scoring record as a player was as good as Neil Harris’s was. But all credit to him, it so nearly forced extra time, with a penalty and a sucker punch goal separating two sides that were 72 league places apart. 

I suspect in the end both sides had more than half an eye on their league positions, even if the game was entertaining in a “Can they hold on” kind of a way. We strolled back to the car with slightly different thoughts, me remembering what Molineux used to be, and Robyn and looking to what it might be in the future. We do make a good team!