Football: Branch's brace leaves Royle's recruit in shade

Wolves 4 Manchester City 1
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The Independent Online
JOE ROYLE paraded the pounds 1.5m centre-forward Robert Taylor for a Molineux debut but saw his new capture upstaged by a striker he wanted to sign a year ago as First Division leaders Manchester City slumped to a second defeat in seven days.

Seizing an early grip, Wolves became the first team since West Ham United in 1996 to score four against City, inspired by a two-goal home debut by the 21-year-old Michael Branch, on loan to Colin Lee's team after being transfer-listed. Branch spent a month with City last season but Everton did not want to sell.

Now Wolves, not surprisingly, are equally keen to keep him but although a pounds 500,000 fee has been agreed, Lee does not know if he can complete the deal. "The chairman may change his mind but as things stand I will have to sell before I can buy," he said.

City, unbeaten in 10 games before Huddersfield's win at Maine Road last Saturday, had to accept full culpability for last night's reminder that their route back to the Premiership may yet be strewn with obstacles.

Themselves in need of a confidence-restorer after two consecutive defeats, the home side were in front after six minutes when Ade Akinbiyi scrambled the ball past Nicky Weaver from close range. The goalkeeper pushed Neil Emblen's powerful header against the bar but when it came down it spun kindly for Akinbiyi, who stooped to head home his ninth goal in 16 matches since his transfer from Bristol City.

Taylor, the burly former Gillingham striker making his City debut, hit back by rattling Michael Oakes' woodwork with a snap shot but Wolves had their tails up and the 19th minute saw Branch open his account. Andy Sinton provided the creative input, swapping passes with Akinbiyi to work the ball across from the left. Branch took over as City failed to clear, tucking an angled shot out of Weaver's reach from 15 yards.

City hauled themselves back into contention when Shaun Goater slid into the six-yard box to convert Mark Kennedy's low cross but Wolves confirmed their early supremacy when Branch added his second four minutes before half-time, squeezing between two City defenders to turn home Akinbiyi's return pass from the right at the near post.

With Kennedy posing a repeated threat along the left, one sensed City might yet mount a recovery but their chance was dealt a terminal blow when, having conceded three for the first time this season, they let in a fourth on 68 minutes. Simon Osborn released Darren Bazeley on the right and Kevin Muscat arrived virtually unattended at the near post to score with relative ease to leave City heads drooping and manager Joe Royle looking bemused.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Oakes; Muscat, Pollet, Curle, Naylor; Bazeley, Emblen, Osborn, Sinton (S Taylor, 90); Akinbiyi, Branch (Corica, 85). Substitutes not used: Stowell (gk), Robinson, Sedgley.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Edghill, Wiekens, Jobson, Granville (Pollock, 56); Whitley (Tiatto, 56), Horlock, Bishop, Kennedy; R Taylor, Goater. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Crooks, G Taylor.

Referee: S Bennett (Orpington).