Wolves top before Christmas – what happened next?

By Tim Spiers | Wolves | Published: | Last Updated:

It’s been a wonderful start to the season for Wolves, who are now everyone’s tip for Championship promotion after earning 44 points from their opening 19 fixtures.

Contrasting results from promotion campaigns in, clockwise from top left; 2009, 2002, 1983 and 1995

But how have previous promotion bids from the second tier ended up?

Wolves correspondent Tim Spiers looks back at the post-war seasons when Wolves have been top before Christmas.


Flying start – 46 points from 19 matches

End of season – promoted

Wild celebrations as Wolves beat Derby 3-2 on their way to promotion

Wolves looked unstoppable at the start of the 2008/09 campaign with striker Chris Iwelumo in the form of his life, scoring 13 in 15 games and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake netting 14 before Christmas.

After accumulating a remarkable 46 points from their opening 19 matches they were already 12 points clear of third.


At the halfway point they had 53 points and looked on course for a Championship record total before a dreadful run of one win in 11 saw the gap to third-placed Reading shrink to five points and the Royals had two games in hand.

But then Mick McCarthy's young, hungry and talented team found their mojo again, losing just once more from the start of March onwards. They were promoted with two games to spare, seven points clear of runners-up Blues.

It was a joyous season packed with memorable victories, not least in the home straight when wins at Forest and Derby helped get them over the line before promotion was secured against QPR at Molineux.



Flying start – 27 points from 11 matches

End of season – lost in play-offs

After 12 years in the second tier Wolves blew another promotion campaign in 2002

A season that no Wolves fan who lived through it will ever forget.

Aided by £10million of new signings including Mark Kennedy, Colin Cameron, Nathan Blake and Kenny Miller, Dave Jones’ side stormed to the top of the table with an unbeaten 11-game start to the campaign.

In early November they were top of the pile, four points clear of third with a game in hand and jostled with Kevin Keegan's Manchester City for top spot throughout the winter.

Then after seven consecutive wins in the spring, Wolves were top with 76 points, 10 clear of third-placed Albion with only 10 games left.

As no one of a gold and black persuasion needs reminding they then collapsed in the most spectacular style imaginable, winning only two of their final nine games and ending up three points behind their great rivals (with City crowned champions). If Devon Loch could talk he'd had personally thanked Wolves for taking his mantle as sport's biggest choker.

Background context is needed here – Wolves had been in the second tier for 12 years despite spending almost endless millions under Sir Jack – and this was one failure too many for supporters, as the above picture shows.

To top it off they lost to Norwich in the play-offs. Here endeth the lesson.


Flying start – 34 points from 18 matches

End of season – lost in play-offs

John McGinlay celebrates in the background after Bolton end Steve Bull's promotion dream

After a 3-1 home win over Bolton in their 18th match Wolves were league leaders and five points clear of the third-placed Trotters.

Graham Taylor’s expensively assembled team scored goals for fun at times (no team scored more than their 77) and had big-name experienced players as well as a huge squad.

Then a crippling injury list began to increase with the likes of John De Wolf, Steve Froggatt, Tony Daley and Geoff Thomas all out for long spells – and Wolves began to lose ground.

They were very much in the mix come April 1 – six points behind leaders Middlesbrough (only the champions went up automatically that year) with two games in hand but won only one of their last nine and slipped to fourth.

In the play-off semi finals John McGinlay was booked for punching David Kelly and scored the winning goal a few minutes later. Never forget.


Flying start – 27 points from 13 matches

End of season – promoted

Graham Hawkins, Derek Dougan and John Ireland toast promotion in 1983

The late Graham Hawkins oversaw a nine-game unbeaten run to get Wolves off to a brilliant start following relegation from the top flight the previous season and they led the division in the autumn.

Off the field Wolves were about to endure a total meltdown but at this point legendary former striker Derek Dougan was running things behind the scenes.

A run of eight wins in 10 games around Christmas cemented their promotion credentials and they were top in January too.

A bizarre sequence of draws in March and April – eight in nine matches – allowed QPR to run away with the title but Wolves would still finish five points clear of second-placed Leicester and returned to the top flight at the first attempt.

Mel Eves scored 18 goals, Wayne Clarke 12 and Andy Gray 10 to help Wolves over the line.


Flying start – 24 points from 17 matches (two points for a win)

End of season – promoted

A pitch invasion after promotion in 1967

Seven years earlier Wolves were the best team in the land but after Stan Cullis’s unceremonious sacking in 1964 they were relegated from the top flight and finished only sixth a season later.

Andy Beattie was shown the door in 1965 but by the start of the 1966/67 season Wolves were on the up under Ronnie Allen.

They started well, earning 24 points from their opening 17 games (34 points in today’s currency) and topping the table in November.

A new generation of Peter Knowles, Derek Dougan, Mike Bailey and Dave Wagstaffe led a promotion charge that included an eight-game winning run in the spring.

They should have won the league (a final-day 4-1 defeat at Palace handed Coventry the title) but Wolves finished comfortably ahead of third-placed Carlisle with a six-point margin.

Tim Spiers

By Tim Spiers

Writes about Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club for a living


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