Captain Sam Ricketts believes Jamie O’Hara will be like a “new signing” for promotion-chasing Wolves.
O’Hara is poised for a possible Molineux return after being welcomed back to the squad by head coach Kenny Jackett last week at Bradford, then taken off the transfer list. The £5m midfielder has polarised opinion after falling out with fans at Brighton in May.
But Ricketts reckons the former Tottenham man’s quality is what he should be judged on now, four months after returning from exile.
“He’s effectively a new signing because he hasn’t been with us all season,” said the skipper.
“He trained with us last Friday and this week and has undoubted quality, so it’s just down to him to prove it and show to the Wolves fans the player he is.
“I’m not saying whatever happened in the past can be forgotten, but I think you get to a point when you sweep it under the carpet and say: ‘Let’s have a fresh start and see where it goes.’”
Ricketts wasn’t at the club when O’Hara’s relationship with the Molineux masses turned toxic last season.
But he believes it’s important for the fans to support the midfielder now he is back in the fold. I think a lot of time has passed and it works both ways – there’s no reason why people shouldn’t get second chances,” he said.
“Jamie has to prove to the fans that he wants to play here and wants to do well and be successful with a club that has had a great start to the season.
“He wants to be part of that, and if he shows the right character which he’s shown since I’ve been here, then certainly the fans will show support.”
Jackett weighed up his decision carefully before re-introducing O’Hara and Ricketts believes there is no way the boss would have welcomed him back if the improved team spirit and dressing room atmosphere was in danger of being compromised.
“Of course it’s important that the atmosphere is right – we want to continue the momentum and spirit that has got us these results and has earned us this phenomenal start to the season,” he said.
“Thirty-two points from 13 games is fantastic and for Jamie to step into that group is a big strength. He’s been first-class all season and there’s no reason why that should change.
“He needs to let his performances do the talking and that’s the only way he can prove to people the man he is.”
The presence of O’Hara may already have had an effect, if the man-of-the-match performance of Kevin McDonald is anything to go by. And Ricketts is in no doubt that Wolves have got a bargain in paying £250,000 for the former Sheffield United playmaker.
“I’ve played behind Kevin all season and he’s a very good player,” said the ex-Hull and Bolton defender.
“He’s very comfortable on the ball, he uses his body very well to twist and turn out of situations and keep the ball moving and I think it was a great bit of business getting him in. Everyone’s young in this squad and he’s another one, but he’ll go on and get better and he’s showing the quality of why he was so highly regarded.”
Ricketts has been part of a defence that has conceded a League One best of just eight goals this season. And despite injury doubts over Matt Doherty, Richard Stearman and Kevin Foley, the 32-year-old is happy Wolves have the strength in depth to continue that impressive record.
“As a defender, I’m hugely proud of the fact we’ve only conceded eight goals,” said Ricketts.
“The first thing we look for as defenders is the goals against column. Saturday was Ethan’s first League appearance for Wolves and to come on in a difficult game like that, he was excellent.
“He’s got bags of potential, he’s athletic, he’s quick and he’s strong and you have to be that way now to succeed. It’s just a question of how he develops now, but there’s no reason why he can’t go on and become a top player.
“He handled Reid very well and it’s not easy to handle the physical side when you come on as a substitute, especially in a game where we had to defend so resolutely like we did. He just slotted in but it wasn’t like he’d been there all game and he had a fantastic debut.”
Stevenage are expected to follow Bradford in providing another direct test.
Ricketts is convinced Wolves can cope with whatever is thrown at them – pure football or an aerial bombardment.
“It really was a hard-fought victory – they really made us work for it,” he said.
“I thought the lads not only passed the ball well but they dug in and we all defended well and coped with their threat, especially after a difficult start to the game when they got on top and we were 1-0 down. We showed great character and resilience and in the end it was a fantastic win.”
Wolves were backed by another large following last weekend when around 2,500 backed them at Valley Parade.
Ricketts believes the hearty support from the stands is mirrored by the commitment on the pitch as Wolves prepare for another healthy Molineux gate.
“The support is phenomenal and just reminds us what a big club this is and it inspires the players to wear the shirt with pride and that’s what’s happened this season,” he said.