Wolves and Nuno Espirito Santo seem to enjoy heading into a new season by being written off, especially before a ball has been kicked.
With just 10 games remaining in the current league campaign, they are set for one of the most important run-ins in the club’s history, as they have an incredible opportunity to claim a spot in Europe’s top competition.
Rewind just over two years and that would have been considered laughable, go back 12 months and it was nothing more than a pipe dream but now, it is well within their reach.
Last season, Wanderers entered the top-flight as champions of the Championship, and nobody could have envisaged what would follow.
As is the case with most promoted teams, Wolves were widely tipped to struggle and amount to very little in the subsequent season.
Playing an attractive brand of attacking football, with a squad that contained players who had made the step up from the division below, they went on to claim their highest ever Premier League finish.
After finishing seventh Wolves secured their place in the Europa League, marking their first European campaign since they were knocked out of the UEFA Cup first round by PSV Eindhoven in 1980.
The pre-season talk surrounding Santo’s side centred around the fact that they could become victims of their own success, with a fixture pile-up set to affect their Premier League performances.
As they headed to Northern Ireland to start their campaign in July, weeks before the majority of their fellow top flight teams, Wolves were once again determined to prove their doubters wrong.
While success came instantly in the Europa League, it took seven games for their first Premier League victory of the season to come, much to the delight of those who had written them off.
Hopes of competing in Europe beyond the current campaign were looking slim initially, as it took 12 Gameweeks for Wolves to venture into the top half of the league.
Santo’s side have remained there since then though, chipping away at the teams around them before taking up an advantageous position heading into the final 10 fixtures.
With all of this on-going, Wanderers have also taken huge strides in the Europa League after manoeuvring their way through three stages of qualification, before taking up their place in Group K.
Five wins and a draw saw Wolves qualify for the knockout stages as group winners, and a 6-3 aggregate triumph over Espanyol has led to a Round of 16 tie with Olympiacos.
Given their performances in the competition already this season, the Premier League outfit are widely considered as third favourites to lift the trophy, a huge compliment for a side that were competing in the Championship two years ago.
Since their promotion, and under the guidance of Santo, Wolves have perfected a style of play that challenges some of the best clubs in the top-flight, and is now making waves in Europe.
With the right mixture of flair and willingness to work for one and other, they have emerged as a team with a huge opportunity to make history and potentially change the course of the club’s future.
Heading into Saturday’s home fixture with Brighton and Hove Albion, Wolves are just three points behind the top four, a position that was 14-points beyond their reach at the end of last season.
It is one of the tightest races for a place in the Champions League since the Premier League began, with five points separating five teams heading into the business end of the year, and Santo’s men are right in the mix.
Tottenham Hotspur claimed the final place in Europe’s elite competition last season, a team that seemed to be a level above a Wolves side who had over-achieved in the minds of so many.
Fast-forward less that 12 months and they twice came from behind to defeat Spurs, and in-doing so leapfrogged them in the Premier League table and strengthened their position in the race for the top four.
Following their home clash with Brighton, Wolves take on West Ham United, Bournemouth and Aston Villa, a run of games that Santo’s men are expected to pick up maximum points in.
If they can come away from that period with all 12 points, then the final six games of the season will become even more crucial in their pursuit of Champions League football.
Given that their run in is the most straight-forward of the sides vying for a top four finish, it is vital that they avoid complacency against the teams below them in the table, while maintaining their intensity and form against those from within the traditional ‘big six’.
While the size of the Wolves squad is a concern, they have managed to get this far without any issues and will be hoping to cling on to their current form until the end of the season before fatigue sets in.
Participation in the Europa League could have an adverse effect on the energy levels of Santo’s players, but it also presents a second opportunity of Champions League qualification if they are able to win the competition.
While this season will be considered a success regardless of the outcome, this is a rare opportunity that may never present itself ever again for Wolves. Take that opportunity, and it could have a knock-on effect for many seasons to come, as they will attract bigger names and improve their financial income to be able to extend their squad.
This is an unusual season in the Premier League, with Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal all performing below par in comparison to previous years. That is something Leicester City have taken full advantage of, with Brendan Rodgers’ side looking set for a return to the Champions League.
Wolves need to make sure they grasp this opportunity while it is available too, and if they can force their way into the top four it would be a ground-breaking season for the club.
There is still a huge possibility that they could end this campaign with a major European trophy, by breaking into the top four or better still, by achieving both.
Whatever their final fixtures bring, there is no doubting that Santo has built a team that has earned the right to be taken serious and no longer be written off.