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Curle: Wolves can go one better than Class of ’98

Keith Curle believes the present-day Wolves can go one better than the Class of ’98 and reach the FA Cup final.

Curle, now 55 and manager of League Two Northampton, was captain of the last Wolves team to reach a semi-final, when they were beaten 1-0 by Arsenal at Villa Park in 1998.

Wolves take on Watford at Wembley on Sunday with seemingly not much between the two teams, who are seventh and eighth in the Premier League respectively.

But Curle sees one clear victor – providing Nuno Espirito Santo’s side get their noses in front first.

I think it will be 3-1 to Wolves,” the former England international told www.wolvesbite.com. “I think there will be goals in it. Goals change games and they change the mentality of players.

Depending on when the first goal comes, I think there could be three or four goals.

The longer it goes on without a goal I can see it being settled by one.

But if either team scores, I can see that team getting three or four, so it could be 3-0 or 3-1 because both teams like to score and get on the front foot.

Wolves have got to be respectful of the opposition – which the manager will be – nullify their threats and exploit the areas on the pitch where they can score goals, just the same as they do in a league game. That seems to be something they do well, and every player will have their jobs to carry out.

They must play the game, not the occasion – that was one of the messages we were told when we were there. We had a gameplan and we were disciplined to stick to it.

Every player had their individual challenges all over the field, and the more players coming out on top of those, the more chance we had of winning the game.”

For Curle, promotion and the huge investment and improvement at Wolves has come two decades too late for him as a player. But the ex-Manchester City defender always believed this sort of upsurge in their fortunes was possible.

And the much-travelled manager, who has had spells in charge of Mansfield, Chester, Torquay, Notts County and Carlisle, reckons they could compete with the very best in the land.

They were a Premier League outfit in the Championship, but with the financial backing, they stormed out of the Championship and had to hit the ground running, which they did do,” he added.

They have the financial backing and the belief in what they’re doing to strive to go from that second pack into the top pack.

Competing with Manchester United, Manchester City and the rest on a financial level, they have the backing, but those other clubs have had that consistency over many years. Money does not guarantee you success but the availability of money guarantees you choices of quality player.

The important season for them now is next season. It has to be about maintaining that level of improvement and striving to improve in all departments.

Wolves went through a sticky patch but they have stuck to their beliefs and now they’re reaping the rewards. They have got some excellent players and some experienced lads and they’re working hard as a unit. It’s a good format.”

Curle, a cultured defender who could also deal out the rough stuff, was capped by England three times during his time at City and was seen as the big-name leader to guide Wolves back to the big time.

But he admits he would struggle to get into Nuno’s team. “It would be nice to be a sub!” he smiled. “I loved my time at Wolves. It’s a great football club, it was a great time in my life and I met some fantastic people there.

The club in my mind has always been right for this leap but the timing had to be right.”

Curle was part of a ‘nearly’ Wolves team of big names and big investment at the time which failed to reap its reward.

As well as defeat in the semi-final, they were knocked out in the play-off semi-final to Crystal Palace the season before, prompting owner Sir Jack Hayward’s infamous ‘golden tit’ speech.

Wolves’ gameplan in their semi-final was to frustrate Arsenal, with manager Mark McGhee fielding just one striker, Don Goodman, having controversially opted to start goalgetters Steve Bull and Robbie Keane on the bench.

Curle still feels Wolves gave a good account of themselves at Villa Park against a team that would win the Double.

It was disappointing but we still had chances in the game that could have changed the outcome,” he said. “!I felt we had more clear-cut chances in the game but the disappointment was the goal, which came after the poor kick by Hans (Segers) after a backpass.

I can remember the night before, we stayed at a hotel and Mark McGhee asked me to address some supporters and staff.

One of the messages I said was that we would give a good account of ourselves and give a good representation of what we were trying to do as a club, and that’s what we tried to do.”

Curle has much more pleasant memories of the quarter-final away to Leeds, which Wolves won 1-0 against the odds.

The skipper got involved in a showdown with striker Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink that day, grabbing him by the face, while also trying to put him off with a few choice ‘verbals’ as the Dutchman prepared to take a penalty saved by Segers.

But he revealed it was all part of McGhee’s gameplan to get under the skin of a star-studded Leeds team that would finish fifth in the Premier League that season.

It was a fantastic experience. I think the game at Elland Road was excellent,” he recalled. “We went there with a gameplan which was important because we knew we weren’t going to be the possession team.

But we had a structure and we knew we could catch them on the counter-attack. We were organised and disciplined but we knew we might only get one chance and that we had to take it.

Part of our gameplan was to knock them out of their stride and we did that. We were more than combative and we were not prepared to take a backward step, and as a unit, we played on the front foot.

If there was a confrontation to be had, then we were up for it.”