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Wolves defender Richard Stearman targeting title and then a shave

18 April 2014

By Tony Leighton

Wolverhampton Wanderers have clinched promotion and, to paraphrase a headline of a few years ago from The Sun, 'It was the beards wot won it!'

Back in February, with Wolves looking on course for a rapid return to the Sky Bet Championship following last year's relegation, a number of the club's players decided that they would not shave until promotion was confirmed.

Central defender Richard Stearman, who became the most spectacularly hirsute of the group, told "The idea started as a bit of banter among the lads, but we've stuck with it - and there are some interesting beards!

"In its own way it's an indication of the great team spirit we've had in the camp this season. There's been a great camaraderie on as well as off the pitch.

"The original plan was to shave the beards off once we'd got promotion, but now we're keeping them until if and when we've got the title - hopefully soon!"

Victories in their Easter weekend games, against Rotherham United on Friday and third-placed Leyton Orient on Monday, will virtually guarantee Wolves the Sky Bet League 1 title as their goal difference is vastly superior to the only team who can possibly overtake them, second-placed Brentford.

But Stearman is taking nothing for granted. "We've got two very tough games over the weekend," he said, "and I'm certainly glad that we're already over the line in terms of promotion before playing these two very strong teams.

"It would be very disappointing for us not to win the league from the position we're in right now, but we're not celebrating just yet."

Stearman knows very well the feeling of winning a league title having helped Wolves to reach the Premier League as champions of the Championship back in 2008/09, his first season at the Molineux club.

They stayed there only three years, however, before a disastrous two relegations in succession saw them plummet to League 1.

Stearman himself missed the majority of the ignominy of the 2012/13 campaign as he spent the second half of the season on loan at Ipswich Town.

But he returned during the close season and, under a new manager in Kenny Jackett, has played a key role in what has become one of the tightest defences in any of the country's divisions to help Wolves on the road back towards the top.

"When I was sent out on loan in January," he recalled, "I thought that my time at Wolves was maybe coming to an end. But when the new gaffer came in during the summer he said he wanted me here and I was delighted to stay.

"It's been a brilliant season, similar in many ways to the one we had when we won the Championship. That's obviously a higher and a harder division, but there's no way you can knock what we've achieved this season.

"It certainly couldn't have gone much better at the back. We've had a settled back four and goalkeeper, which has helped, but we've kept a record number of clean sheets and I'm really proud of what we've achieved as a defence."

After helping his team gain promotion at the first attempt - in what is his first season playing as low as the third tier - Stearman is confident that Wolves can not only make their mark in the Championship but also challenge at the top end of the table and possibly clinch a second successive promotion.

"Before this season I've spent my whole career in the Championship or the Premier League," said the 26-year-old former Leicester City defender, "and I believe that in this Wolves team we've got players who are good enough to step up and play in both of those divisions.

"There's a good nucleus of players that, with a couple of additions, could take the club straight through to the Premier League.

"It's been done before - Norwich and Southampton have both done it in recent seasons - and I believe that we could well be capable of doing it too."

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