Express & Star

It's Wayne's world in goal at Wolves

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Wolves columnist John Lalley pays tribute to the new and improved Wayne Hennessey after the Wales international came in from the cold to prove he is No 1.


Wolves columnist John Lalley pays tribute to the new and improved Wayne Hennessey after the Wales international came in from the cold to prove he is No 1.

Regardless of what these crucial final nine games have in store for Wolves, one thing is absolutely certain.

Our manager Mick McCarthy wouldn't in his wildest dreams contemplate tackling a single one of them without goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey in his starting line-up.

Such is the imperious level of form currently being displayed by the Welshman, it's all too easy to forget that he returned to the fold only in late November, after an entire year with his career stalled playing second fiddle to the consistently impressive Marcus Hahnemann.

The American stabilised our defence almost from the moment he replaced Hennessey last year, barely succumbing to error during his entire stint until a couple of clangers at Portsmouth by which time, it mattered not a jot as we had already survived the threat of relegation.

Hahnemann's contribution had been invaluable and his selection at the beginning of this season was assured, any other decision would have been a travesty.

And in truth, him never quite replicating his confident demeanour of last term could hardly be blamed for our faltering start to this campaign. The entire team was stuttering, confidence was low and our results dismal.

At Blackpool, Hahnemann was beaten by a once in a million strike by Luke Varney for their initial goal, before uncharacteristically flapping weakly at a cross to concede a damaging Marlon Harewood decider.

McCarthy felt he had to be decisive and Hennessey it was next up against Sunderland at Molineux.

For Hennessey, the chance had been a long time coming and his frustration leading to a request for a loan move away from the club was understandable.

Instead, his opportunity had resurfaced right here right now and he needed to grasp the chance with both hands. It must be sublime being a professional player but just prior to kick off against Sunderland, I had a gander at Hennessey and for once, I didn't envy him one bit.

The team in a desperate run of form, no Jody Craddock or Christophe Berra in front for a semblance of reassurance and a good many Wolves fans still sceptical regarding the Welshman's reliability.

Also on the bench was Marcus Hahnemann who, despite recent lapses, could look back on a superb year, so Hennessey faced a real challenge to match the American for consistency.

Supporters forget the levels of pressure on players on occasions and Hennessey's insides must have been churning, he wouldn't have been human if he was not inwardly praying that. regardless of the outcome, he would be spared any calamitous error to mark his return.

Sure enough, fate was on his side, caught completely static and watching helplessly as Boudewijn Zenden's effort missed his left post by a whisker before Kieran Richardson almost uprooted a goalpost with a thunderous free kick with the goalkeeper motionless.

But Hennessey weathered the storm, was blameless for the two goals Wolves conceded that day and made a couple of quality saves to deny Darren Bent when our defence was creaking.

Best of all, Wolves collected the points to address a slide that was becoming increasingly alarming.

Mick McCarthy's assertion that Hennessey was returning to the team as a 'more mature' character perhaps illustrates the levels of commitment and hard work required to excel at this level of the game.

Initially, it probably came all too easily for Hennessey, pressed into play-off action after a training injury to Matt Murray he immediately adapted to the demands of Championship football with a string of outstanding displays leaving no doubts about his potential.

His profile was further enhanced by his sustained excellence in international football with his brilliance often saving a hapless Welsh team from complete humiliation.

Maybe the early adulation caused Hennessey to take his success for granted and allow a measure of complacency to creep in, or perhaps all of us expected too much too soon from such a young player.

Whatever the reason for the temporary tapering off of his career, the last 12 months must have been a salutary period for him, not the least of which was the constant reminder that Hahnemann had introduced a degree of stability to Wolves singularly lacking with Hennessey on board.

His selection based on what McCarthy described as a reward for 'growing up' gave him the chance to reinstate himself as a long term fixture in the team.

Since then, he has responded magnificently with a string of superb performances illustrating that our initial impressions of Hennessey were not misplaced.

Significantly, he appears altogether more confident and self-assured in commanding his area and committing himself to intercepting high balls launched into our penalty box.

Previously, many fans had been critical believing that Hennessey was loathe to venture from his line and he was failing to take full advantage of his towering height.

His brilliant reflexes have certainly not been dimmed during his extended absence and his handling has generally been faultless.

At Bolton in cold, swirling conditions, he provided a master class of surety and positional sense and at Arsenal, as some superlative saves ensured that we retained respectability in defeat.

Against Albion, he registered his only serious error since his return, whilst criticism regarding Tottenham's long range howitzers at Molineux is surely misplaced in the extreme.

Above all, he has passed a stern test of his character. Wanting to move out on loan indicated that Hennessey was perhaps feeling increasingly marginalised at Molineux and maybe envisaged no way back into the team.

The manager's comments about Hennessey 'growing up' suggest that the goalkeeper may just have needed an attitude change and a more professional outlook to face his demons.

Like every other player, Hennessey won't finish this season without a blemish but we can rest assured that the good in him will comfortably outweigh the indifferent.

He has been absolutely terrific and deserves every credit for his application and consistency.

If injury intervened, the temporary return of the admirable Hahnemann would induce no feeling of trepidation but for Wolves, the future rests fully in the capable hands of Hennessey.