Saturday marked another victory for Wolverhampton Wanderers, their 26th in League One this season, as they edge ever-closer to returning to England’s second tier.
They have 12 wins from the last 14 games and look to be in pole position in the race for automatic promotion, with Brentford their only realistic challengers for the League 1 title.
Many factors have contributed to Wolves’ impressive campaign. Of course, given the squad they have and the stature of the club, they were obvious favourites to return to the Championship. But the mix of experience and youthful flair, a vital ingredient of any promotion campaign, has been integral in propelling Wolves to the top of League 1, where they intend to remain until May.
The summer arrival of manager Kenny Jackett can also not be ignored. His desire for a new challenge following his six-year stint at Millwall has been a breath of fresh air for supporters and players alike.
But arguably, the biggest reason for Wolves’ fantastic season is the inclusion of so many academy graduates. Jackett’s craving to involve players who, in seasons gone by, have been frozen out or given little opportunity, must go down as one of the success stories of the season.
Relegation is rarely seen in a positive light. It marks the end of a failed campaign and often the beginning of various financial worries. Players leave, transfer and wage budgets are cut and supporters are lost.
But at a place where, like many around the country, a good youth setup produces fantastic homegrown talent, relegation from the Premier League to League 1 in two short seasons can be looked on as a positive aspect.
The sad truth is that players such as Jack Price, Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Liam McAlinden would definitely not have been given the opportunities posed by Jackett had Wolves stayed in the Premier League. Of course, they more than likely would have moved on to other outfits sooner or later to carve out a career, but they now have the chance to do so at Molineux.
Some may not agree that anyone sees relegation as a good thing. But there are similar scenarios. Say you are a second-choice goalkeeper. Week after week you watch on as your teammate plays in your place. When he rolls his ankle and can’t continue, how do you feel? Bad for him, as he’s injured? Of course, this is what you say in post-match interviews, but this is your opportunity to show the manager what he’s missing. You’re delighted.
The same surely most go for players who sit on the sidelines, in the reserves or youth teams when your club is doing poorly. They know they can make a difference, but it is not until big players leave following relegation that they get a chance to deliver.
It happens every season, of course, at many clubs. Reading were relegated to the Championship and this season have handed debuts to players such as Michael Hector, while Jake Taylor made his first appearance for the club in two years. Jordan Obita, who has been at the club since he was eight, has been given a lot of match time that he previously only received while out on loan.
Due to the increase in foreigners in the Championship though, the implementation of this is less prominent at clubs leaving the Premier League.
Back at Wolves, centre-back Danny Batth is one of many that has profited from the club’s relegation. He has made 39 league appearances this term, compared to his 12 of last season. Batth thinks the fans also appreciate the homegrown talent more.
He said: “They want to know that they’ve got players out there who results matter to – who take defeats personally and are desperate to win.
“In the past, maybe they haven’t felt that. But this season I think they’ve seen how desperate the lads are to play for Wolves and they’ve got behind us brilliantly.”
“It’s funny because chances [for us] might not have come if the club had remained in the Premier League or Championship.”
This window of opportunity opened by relegation is a huge part of the English game, and the Football League. Yet stories such as Wolves’ this year will only continue if the right management is in place. Credit must go to Kenny Jackett.