Three and a half months can be a long, long time in football. On the final weekend of April, Molineux witnessed an angry pitch invasion after Wolves' last home fixture of the old Championship season brought a defeat by Burnley which all but confirmed their relegation. Players were jostled, a hole punched in the dugout and obscenities sung. If that was despair, yesterday hope raised its head once more in this corner of the Black Country.
After a goalless draw at Preston and Capital One Cup defeat at Morecambe in his opening two games as manager, Kenny Jackett oversaw an impressive victory in his first home match and a new era at Molineux had lift-off. It was a victory effectively secured before half-time, by which time Wolves led 3-0.
It featured a highly impressive home debut from the Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths, the scorer of two of the goals, and it suggested that the runaway train – as Dean Saunders described the club during his unsuccessful attempt to avert a second successive relegation – is back on track.
When Wolves dropped into the old third division in 1985, Gillingham came and earned their only ever league win at this ground and the 1985-86 season ended with a third successive demotion and the club declared bankrupt. If that lends some historical perspective to their current plight, so does the fact their average home gate that year was 4,001; by contrast, Wolves have sold some 11,000 season tickets this summer and the punters were right behind their new-look team yesterday.
It should help to have a manager of Jackett's substance overseeing their recovery. He led Millwall out of this division and, as Graham Taylor's assistant, helped Watford to do the same. Crucially, he has acted immediately to heal a broken dressing room. Karl Henry has gone while Roger Johnson and Jamie O'Hara – the reported root of much of the discontent – have been banished to the youth team along with Stephen Ward, and told to find new clubs. Two other players who started yesterday – the Republic of Ireland forward Kevin Doyle and the classy Frenchman Bakary Sako – may also be on the move before the month's end.
Jackett's rebuilding will continue until then – so far only Sam Ricketts has come in as club captain while the midfielder Kevin McDonald's transfer from Sheffield United appears imminent – but the recall of Griffiths after two seasons loaned to Hibernian could prove vital to their promotion hopes.
He scored 28 goals last term and earned the PFA Scotland young player of the year and Scottish football writers' player of the year awards. A Mick McCarthy signing, he had not played for the club before last weekend but it took just five minutes for him to make his mark yesterday as he collected a ball from Ricketts on his chest turned and hit a first-time volley into the bottom left corner.
If some much-publicised off-field misdemeanours north of the border suggest he may be a headache to manage, Griffiths certainly looks a handful for defenders and he typified the energy and enthusiasm shown by a Wolves team with six players aged 22 or under.
Gillingham, last season's Division Two champions, have not managed to score yet this season and did not look like breaking their duck as Wolves swarmed over them in the first half. After Griffiths had a fierce shot turned over by Stuart Nelson, he was involved in the second goal after 26 minutes when his shot deflected up into the path of the onrushing midfielder Lee Evans, who chested the ball down before lifting it past Nelson.
It was soon 3-0 as the homegrown winger, Zeli Ismail, teed up Sako to beat Nelson from close range. Wolves kept coming, in particular, the livewire Griffiths, who would have gone off at half-time with a hat-trick but for Nelson.
Griffiths did beat the goalkeeper a second time in the 68th minute, when he steered a penalty low to his left after Leon Legge had felled Evans. For Martin Allen's Gillingham, Nelson's display was just about the only good thing on a bad day and he denied Wolves a fifth when foiling Bjorn Sigurdarson. For Wolves, by contrast, hope has been restored.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Ikeme; Doherty (Foley, 89), Batth, Stearman, Ricketts; Ismail (Price, 76), Evans, Davis, Sako; Doyle (Sigurdarson, 64), Griffiths.
Gillingham (4-1-3-2): Nelson; Harriman, Legge, Barrett, Martin; Gregory (Dack, 55); Lee, Linganzi, Weston; McDonald (Whelpdale, 57), Kedwell (German, 71).
Referee Stuart Attwell.
Man of the match Griffiths (Wolves).
Match rating 6/10.