Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey is back.
Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey is back.
A year after losing his place for a home game against Birmingham, the 23-year-old prepares to step between the sticks against Blues once again as the club's No.1.
It's been a long journey. But now he's got his place back, he's setting his sights high and is determined to do everything it takes to make himself 'unbeatable'.
Hennessey has had a long time to contemplate where he was heading over the last 12 months.
But in his first interview since regaining his place, the Wales international said he agreed with boss Mick McCarthy's assertion that he has matured.
"Definitely. I kept working hard in training and doing the things I needed to be doing in the gym and it's paid off," he said.
"The gaffer has said he thinks I've matured in the last year and it's nice to hear that. Now I just want to keep my place and keep my head at a certain level and try to improve all the time.
"I'm going to keep working hard because I aim to be the best — I want to be unbeatable. And I want to stay in the Premier League with Wolves."
If there was a school of thought that had Hennessey down as giving the impression that things had come easily for him up until a year ago, then it was swiftly dispelled by the exile that followed. And the man himself feels he is finally gaining his reward for his hard work behind the scenes.
"You learn a lot when you're not playing," he said. "I've trained hard even when I wasn't in the team — I could have gone off in a sulk, but I kept training hard.
"I've kept very fit and I've eaten the right things. If I've got certain things I need to improve on then I'll do it in training, and now I'm back in the team, I can take it into the games. I thank the gaffer for putting me back in but just because I'm playing again, it doesn't mean I'm going to take my foot off the gas. I'm working hard in training and even harder in the games. So I feel I've got my reward for doing the right things on the training field."
But Hennessey hasn't done it all alone and he's been indebted to help from family and friends to keep his spirits up.
"I was speaking to Paul Jones (ex-Wolves and Wales) about this and he was saying you're in your prime at 28-29, but it's probably even later," he added.
"Paul and Michael Oakes have been fantastic too — 'Oakesy' told me to keep my head up. He told me I'm still young and to keep working hard in training and hopefully my chance would come.
"My family — mum Diane and dad Paul — have been the biggest help when I wasn't in the team.
"If I need any help, they're there all the time for me — they're supportive of me and that's very important to me.
"All the lads have been great with me as well — especially when I've been away with Wales. John Toshack and Brian Flynn have been brilliant with me."
Hennessey was delighted to make it a winning return against Sunderland on his comeback.
But that only compounded his disappointment at last week's 3-0 defeat at Blackburn.
"It was brilliant to get the win against Sunderland, but that made it all the more frustrating to get beat at Blackburn," he said. "We just need to turn it around and beat Birmingham.
"But they're a good team and it should make for a good derby which I'm looking forward to because I love derbies.
"Coming to our ground, we're looking at it for three points. We're not going to sit back and let them come on to us."
Blues have held Fulham, Sunderland, Villa, West Ham and Manchester City on their travels but are yet to win away.
Hennessey feels confident his opposite number will be the more active keeper tomorrow.
After conceding two or more goals in the last five games, it's at the other end where Wolves' problems lie.
"I know Ben Foster well and it will be nice to see him, but I'm hoping he'll have a lot busier afternoon than me," he said.
"It affects you massively as a goalkeeper when you don't keep clean sheets — it's like a striker not scoring.
"I wouldn't say I'm insulted to see the ball flying into the net, but you don't want any goals going past you and I was devastated by those goals at Blackburn."
Hennessey insists confidence hasn't been compromised by the mistakes strangling Wolves' attempts to get out of trouble. "It's about minimising them," he said.
"We're always confident when we're looking forward to big games like this. Now's the time to show it on the pitch and kick on from there."
Wolves' cause hasn't been helped by them losing their best defender Jody Craddock, while Steven Mouyokolo is out of tomorrrow's clash with an ongoing back problem.
Hennessey believes the absences should be viewed positively, however.
"It's a good chance for people to come in and prove themselves," he said.
"We all train together so we all know each other's strengths and weaknesses and we're a tight-knit group.
"Whoever comes in we will wish them all the best."
That extends to the goalkeepers — and there is genuine support between the men battling it out for the No.1 spot.
"Just because Marcus Hahnemann is playing in my position, I'm not going to slag him off," said Hennessey.
"He's my friend, I train well with him and all of the goalkeepers are close here — myself, Marcus, Carl Ikeme and Aaron McCarey.
"Whoever's in that goal we wish them all the best and we'll support them with whatever they need."