Wolves huff and puff but fail to blow the door down


Birmingham City 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1:WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS are running out of opportunities to extricate themselves from the relegation zone and this display will not have generated much optimism that they are capable of taking any further ones that may come their way.

For more than an hour after Birmingham City’s Craig Gardner got himself sent off for diving Wolves huffed and puffed but never looked like blowing down the door of the 10 men. Their lack of creativity goes some way towards accounting for their lack of points.

The primary explanation for their lowly league position is slipshod defending and that was in evidence here as a basic blunder by Michael Mancienne gave Sebastian Larsson the opportunity to equalise for Birmingham after Stephen Fletcher had given the visitors an early lead.

Mick McCarthy had warned his team beforehand that, if they continued performing in the way that had brought three defeats in their past four games, they would be doomed to demotion and that statement of the obvious initially seemed to have stimulated his side. Wolves began with great hunger and forged a shooting opportunity within 20 seconds, though Kevin Foley’s wayward effort did not demand a save from Ben Foster.

Foster’s inclusion, following recovery from the injury that had forced him off in last week’s defeat by Liverpool, was meant to be a boost for Birmingham but in the seventh minute a mistake by the normally reliable goalkeeper enabled Wolves to take the lead. Foster miscued an attempted clearance to Matt Jarvis and then, after the winger slipped the ball through to Stephen Ward, compounded that by felling the forward. Fletcher sent Foster the wrong way from the spot kick.

Wolves’ Richard Stearman somehow escaped a booking for a spectacularly inept tackle on Gardner in the 14th minute but Larsson almost avenged his team-mate, cracking the resultant free-kick against the bar from the edge of the box.

In the 27th minute Larsson exacted more punishment for Mancienne’s mistake. The centre-back lost track of a long Foster punt and nodded it into Larsson’s path, leaving the Swede to fire past Wayne Hennessey from close range. “If our season is going to hinge on mistakes, well, there’s another one,” said McCarthy.

Gardner then handed the initiative back to the visitors by attempting to dupe the referee with a dive. The midfielder, who was on a booking, succeeded only in making a fool of himself as Kevin Friend flourished the red card. McLeish did not attempt to defend his player. “He dived and we don’t condone diving, especially when you’re on a yellow card,” he said. “He has apologised to his team-mates.”

Wolves’ remaining fixtures do not look daunting – next week they play West Bromwich Albion and then they travel to Sunderland before, on the last day, playing at home to Blackburn Rovers – but this display does not breed hope for many victories.

McLeish’s side moved four points clear of the drop and have a relatively healthy goal difference and their resistance convinced their manager that they will be safe before the final day. “With that type of performance and will we’re confident we can get more points,” said McLeish.

Whether David Bentley will help in that quest is uncertain. The Tottenham Hotspur loanee stormed out of St Andrew’s before the game after being told he had not even been given a place on the bench. “He’s not the first to do that and it’s not one I’ll lose any sleep over,” said McLeish. “When others have done that in the past they’ve been at training the next day and I’m sure he will be, too.”

Guardian Service