Ebanks-Blake – A True Wanderers Number Nine

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By Ian Booth (Wolverhampton Wanderers fan).

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake signed for Wolves during the transfer window of January 2008 – a window that also saw the purchases of 2 other players still on our books today, namely David Edwards and George Elokobi. All 3 of these signings were typical for Wolves at this time – young (all 3 were 22 or under), ‘hungry’ and bought for relatively modest fees from clubs lower than us in the football pyramid.  Whilst Elokobi was signed from Colchester for around 250-500k, and Edwards from Luton– who were in administration at the time – for 675k, Wolves activated Ebanks-Blake’s release clause from Plymouth Argyle and signed him for £1.5m.

Ebanks-Blake made his Wolves debut in a drab 3-0 defeat at home to Crystal Palace – it was later revealed that he’d driven up from Plymouth only that morning, which would have explained a rather tired, ineffectual display. However, it didn’t take him long to register his first goal for the club, nonchalantly dinking home the 2nd in a 2-0 victory at Glanford Park on a cold January afternoon. (Edwards made his first Wolves appearance that day and opened the scoring in the 1st half).

Although results began to improve for Wolves towards the end of the 2007/08 season, the poor goals return hindered their chances of a 2nd successive play-off appearance, losing out on 6th place to Watford on goal difference. However, Ebanks-Blake’s return of 12 goals from 20 starts was one of the few bright spots in an ultimately disappointing campaign that had promised so much after the success of the previous season. Summer signings Freddy Eastwood and Stephen Elliott failed to live up to expectations which helped persuade Mick McCarthy to pursue Ebanks-Blake’s signature.

However, one game in particular lives in the memory, and was the occasion that saw my favourite ever Wolves goal. The Valley – home of Charlton Athletic – hosted a memorable game on March 29th. Ebanks-Blake opened the scoring with an excellent finish in the first half, and after Charlton pegged us back with an equaliser early the second half, a moment of pure genius swung the game back in Wolves’ favour.  Ebanks-Blake chased after the ball running in the direction of the corner flag. In a moment of pure cheek, he backheeled the ball through the legs of his marker, side stepped another defender before hammering it into the top corner of the net.  If that wasn’t dramatic enough, Wolves conceded another a late goal and it looked like the points would be shared. That wasn’t to be the case as Karl Henry burst through to convert a Kevin Kyle cross deep into stoppage time to win all 3 points (Henry has not scored a league goal for Wolves since!).

However, the brief recovery wasn’t enough and Wolves had to make do with 7th place. Ebanks-Blake managed to win the Championship Golden Boot award because of his impressive tally of 23 goals for Plymouth and Wolves.

The following season proved to be memorable for both Ebanks-Blake and Wolves – Freddy Eastwood and Stephen Elliott both departed in the summer, with Mick MCcarthy bringing in the experienced Chris Iwelumo from Charlton and the promising Sam Vokes from Bournemouth.

Iwelumo and Ebanks-Blake formed one of the best striking partnerships seen at Molineux since the days of Steve Bull and Andy Mutch in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Iwelumo’s experience and physical presence perfectly matched by Ebanks-Blake’s ruthlessness in front of goal, and both enjoyed superb seasons.  Iwelumo notched 16 goals in total (14 in the league) with Ebanks-Blake reclaiming the Golden Boot with an excellent tally of 25 (all in the league).  It was the first time a Wolves striker had netted 25 times in a season since Steve Bull scored 26 in 1990/91. Ebanks-Blake’s final goal of the season was – fittingly – the goal that secured automatic promotion in a 1-0 win against QPR. Wolves were back in the Premier League, finishing the season as League Champions with 90 points. The Wolves were back in the big time, and many supporters saw Ebanks-Blake as a potential star in the top flight.

Sadly, the former Manchester United forward was never a regular in the side during Wolves’ 3-year stay in the Premier League. The club-record purchase of Kevin Doyle in the summer of 2009 meant that Ebanks-Blake was a regular on the bench, with Mick McCarthy preferring to use Doyle as a loan striker – something he did very well as Wolves ended the season in a respectable 15th position. Ebanks-Blake only scored 2 goals in his first season as a Premier League player – a penalty in a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa in October, and against Blackburn in April (a game that saw Wolves retain their Premier League status).

Ebanks-Blake suffered with a lack of form and fitness during that season – he certainly lacked the sharpness that had made him one of the most highly rated players outside the Premier League, missing numerous chances that he would have buried with aplomb mere months earlier.  Combined with a lack of first team opportunities due to the form of Kevin Doyle, many fans thought his time at Molineux was up – never more so than when Steven Fletcher arrived from Burnley, pushing him back to 3rd choice. After a very bright debut in which in scored against Stoke in a 2-1 win, Fletcher started his Wolves career in patchy form, often missing with niggling injuries meaning Ebanks-Blake played more often than the previous season – he ended up with 7 goals, though this wasn’t enough to make him any more than the 3rd choice striker filling in when injuries ruled out Doyle and Fletcher. The end of the season saw a resurgent Fletcher – now the club’s main striker following a knee injury to Kevin Doyle that threatened to derail Wolves’ survival bid – go on a superb run of form, finishing as Wolves’ top goalscorer with 12.

The last season of Wolves’ 3 year stay in the Premier League was nothing short of disastrous – key players struggled for form and after a bright start that saw us temporarily top the league in August, Wolves plummeted down the table, culminating in Mick McCarthy’s dismissal in February. The subsequent managerial merry-go-round since that day has been well documented. Although Fletcher managed to match his total of 2010/11, Ebanks-Blake only netted once and barely looked like increasing that total. The lack of firepower, creativity and woeful defending meant that Wolves were relegated with a whimper – Fletcher, Jarvis and the disappointingly quick-to-depart Michael Kightly left to continue their careers in the Premier League.

I remember the opinion of fans during most of our Premier League years was one of disappointment that Ebanks-Blake had seemingly lost the sharpness and hunger that had made him such an important part of our promotion campaign, and if he would have left Molineux at any time during those years, I don’t think there would have been too many dissenting voices.

Indeed – all Wolves fans doubted that they’d ever see the Sylvan Ebanks-Blake of old terrorising Championship defences, even though that was just where we were heading. If 2011/12 was disappointing, 2012/13 was even worse as a side everyone hoped would compete for promotion back to the Premier League managed to escape the division, but in the direction of League 1 as managerial casualties, bad decision making at all levels of the club, appalling defending, too few goals, a feeling of apathy and bad attitudes throughout the squad all took their toll.

Very few of the squad from this season can look back with any sort of pride, but Ebanks-Blake is one who maybe can – he finished as Wolves’ top scorer with 15 showing that despite an under-performing team, he certainly knows where the goal is at Championship level.  He managed to score a quite superb goal at Millwall (Dean Saunders’ first victory after 9 games of his tenure) blasting in an overhead kick from 15 yards. There were brief glimpses of Ebanks-Blake’s old self, his season (and perhaps Molineux career) ending with a 2 goal haul at St Andrews in Wolves final away victory of the season. Sadly, a nasty injury inflicted by former West Brom, Bolton and Millwall thug Paul Robinson means that Ebanks-Blake probably won’t play until September at the earliest.

Ebanks-Blake was our best number 9 since Steve Bull to wear the famous gold and black – it’s a shame that his career ended on the lowest point in the last 25 years for Wolverhampton Wanderers. If the team would have fought harder for survival and remained in the Championship, we may have seen Ebanks-Blake extend his stay at the club, but as the player may seek a new challenge at a higher level than League 1.  And let’s face it – his record shows that he will be very much at home in the 2nd tier. I wish him well and thank him for his contribution over the past 5 and a half years.  Some of his best moments truly have been amongst the best memories I can remember as a Wolves fan. He has it in him to evoke similar feelings to supporters of whichever club he moves to next.

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Ian is a member of wolvesforum.co.uk forum.
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