Hunt hits derby winner for Wolves
Wolverhampton Wanderers deservedly secured a 1-0 derby triumph over Birmingham City which could have been all the more comfortable if not for the heroics of Ben Foster.
Stephen Hunt's near-post finish on the stroke of half-time was the only effort to beat the England international, who put in another sublime performance to keep the hosts at bay at Molineux. Wanderers triumphed with their first clean sheet since April, although that was much to do with Birmingham's inability to create anything of note.
Wolves manager Mick McCarthy stoked the flames ahead of the derby by stressing the encounter was about more than just three points, and he will be a relieved man to see his side move within a point of safety with what was his first success over the blue half of Birmingham in seven league attempts.
"I've been delighted by the team's spirit and performances every week but today we got a result," said Wolves manager Mick McCarthy. "If we get beat I am dour and down but come Monday morning I am brand new because we have to get on with it."
Birmingham boss Alex McLeish added: "We left a lot of our talking in the dressing room and Wolves battled gamely. They gave us some problems and they deserved the victory."
McCarthy was admittedly dealing with the most severe injury crisis he has had to contend with in almost two decades of management. With enough players sidelined to make an entire starting XI, he was forced to make four changes from the side who went down 3-0 at Blackburn Rovers last weekend - Kevin Doyle (dead leg), Matt Jarvis, Michael Mancienne (both knee) and Steven Mouyokolo (back) making way for Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Hunt, David Edwards and Richard Stearman.
Birmingham counterpart Alex McLeish also made three changes, handing starts to Serbia striker Nikola Zigic, Sebastian Larsson and David Murphy. The opening stages were played at a typical bustling derby tempo, setting the trend for the afternoon.
Foster's first save of the encounter came with ten minutes on the clock, diving to his right to pluck Edwards' goalbound header out of the air. The former Manchester United goalkeeper was at it again less than 60 seconds later, denying Hunt with a great point-blank block after the ball broke six yards out.
The Blues were losing possession far too easily in the final third, meaning they were struggling to create a worthwhile chance. Foster was made to work again just before the half-hour mark, getting down low to save Ebanks-Blake's shot on the turn from the edge of the area.
Wolves, despite their injury crisis, were definitely looking the most likely to break the deadlock. Stephen Ward lobbed a speculative effort over the crossbar before Ebanks-Blake was again left cursing the form of Foster as he parried his drilled effort at the near post. Ward did find the net just before the interval but he was rightfully flagged offside.
Yet there was nothing wrong with Hunt's 45th-minute breakthrough as he got in between Roger Johnson and Stephen Carr to connect with Ebanks-Blake's low cross, leaving Foster with no chance. The lively Edwards should have doubled Wolves' advantage within minutes of the restart, somehow planting his unmarked header inches wide from Ward's right-wing cross.
Wolves continue momentum
The momentum from the first half had failed to shift and Foster was again called into action, getting his body behind Nenad Milijas' free-kick before collecting Ronald Zubar's tame shot. Christophe Berra headed over from Hunt's corner as McCarthy's side looked for a killer second.
Birmingham were in desperate need of some fresh impetus and McLeish turned to Craig Gardner and Jean Beausejour from the bench. But it was Foster who continued to be the visitors' key performer as he produced his umpteenth save of the match to tip Milijas' header over the bar.
Berra collided with a post as he tried to head home, but Wolves were unable to build on their one-goal advantage with 20 minutes remaining. Ward's dangerous cross was well held by Foster before McLeish threw his last roll of the dice, bringing on former West Bromwich Albion man Kevin Phillips to boos from the Molineux faithful.
Despite the home side's dominance they nearly threw the points away as the game entered the final 15 minutes but Cameron Jerome was unable to connect with Beausejour's left-wing cross when, if he had, he surely would have scored. Phillips, who has a wonderful record in derbies, had an even better chance in the 89th minute but got his angles all wrong and headed off target, much to the relief of the majority of the 25,150 present.