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Wolverhampton Wanderers v Preston North End
League One
Saturday, January 11th 2014, 3pm

Paul Willott
(Preston North End fan)

There are few grounds for me quite as redolent of footballing glory than Molineux, so I was very keen to pay another visit to this hallowed turf. Furthermore, with the season well advanced and both clubs very firmly established in the thick of the promotion push, the contest on offer of 3rd versus 4th in the table was extremely mouth-watering.

Having recently returned from the world of being single, it was an added bonus to have my missus happily join me on this excursion having decided that she quite likes the world of following my home-town club. Hence we drove up from the south without incident and opted to ditch the car in one of the town centre multi-storey car-parks. 

Finding the ground itself I have never found easy as it seems to nestle in a hollow beneath and just outside the ring road. I entertained my partner with stories of decades past when pre-google maps one simply used to drive to a town and look for the floodlight pylons which caught me out as in my experience you had to nearly trip over the floodlights before you found the ground in Wolverhampton.......fortunately with past experience to rely upon and a few minutes with maps on the internet the night before we had no such problems on this trip.

We ambled down through the underpass towards the ground and started to soak up the atmosphere of the big clash between two of the oldest clubs in the land ahead of us, wandering around the ground as we did so to see the statue of Billy Wright. I was further impressed to see the stand bearing the name of this great player adorned with several huge picture banners of some halcyon moments of the heyday of this famous old club and I noticed similarly that my partner was equally impressed.

Since my previous visit , the Stan Cullis Stand has been rebuilt which in some ways for me slightly offsets the balance and appearance of the ground. It used to have a very symmetrical and smart appearance, but there can be no argument that the new structure is indeed impressive, and I note that had the club not suffered two successive relegations then the rebuilding of other stands in a similar theme would have perhaps continued.  I was also interested to note the subtle differences in construction evident on the Steve Bull and Billy Wright stands. To the casual observer, they may appear identical, but one closer inspection one clearly bears the hallmarks of 70s style construction, whereas the other (the Billy Wright stand ) is clearly from a more recent epoch of construction techniques.

Molineux is awash outside with burger vans and stalls to choose from, so we happily stuffed our faces before entering the ground. Due to the high demand for tickets for this eagerly anticipated clash, with some 3,500 away supporters tickets having sold out, some were put in the Steve Bull stand lower tier, but we were the lucky ones able to enjoy the relative comfort of the new seats in a section of the new Stan Cullis stand.

Perhaps not surprisingly the atmosphere was absolutely crackling long before kick-off, as an expectant away crowd fancied another 3 points, having only lost once on our travels thus far in the league. Equally the home fans were just as keen to raise the roof to urge their boys on to win a crucial show-down against promotion rivals. Despite a heavy presence of both stewards and police, there was no silly nonsense from either quarter and the whole afternoon was a safe and enjoyable one, if noisy and atmospheric.

I was certainly one of those cautiously optimistic that Preston would fare quite well, coming off a long unbeaten run, especially with Wolves having seemed to have lost a bit of momentum, but as the match got underway, the early pace was set by the home team. In truth, Preston never got into any sort of rhythm, passing and tackling seemed a trifle difficult and I sensed an air of disorganisation in the back line for the first time this season. There could be no complaints really. Although Preston did get the ball in the back of the net it was ruled offside, and it was very much against the run of play, and wolves took a deserved 1-0 lead in at the break.

A second goal never seemed too far away, and it duly came for Wolves with a very well worked move in the second half, and thats the way it stayed. Hence the sun went down over a happy Molineux as 3,500 disappointed Preston fans headed for the exits at the final whistle.

Had I enjoyed the day? Well on the one hand not only was I disappointed to lose, it was doubly disappointing to be seemingly so clearly second best for most of the afternoon. However, it was undeniably a great occasion to savour, and I was doubly delighted to experience it with my partner for her to taste what "big matches" are all about at famous old grounds. 

Furthermore, with a ski-lesson for her to look forward to later at Milton Keynes at 8pm, and some general ski-slope time for me in anticipation of our first holiday together a few weeks hence, there was something else to look forward to very soon . . . . . and as I explained . . . . there's always next Saturday . . . . 

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