Football: Bruce inspires the Blues

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The Independent Online
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Birmingham City 2

So simple did Birmingham City make it look at Molineux yesterday that it was a mystery how they had endured a year and 22 matches since their last away win in the First Division.

But then, for more than half those matches the Blues did not have Steve Bruce. The 35- year-old warrior returned to the heart of his team's over- worked defence after missing the midweek victory over Brighton with a thigh strain and, as committed as ever, inspired them to a significant success.

It left Wolves beaten for the fifth time this season on their own patch, an outcome that had seemed unlikely when Steve Bull scored a characteristic goal in the 10th minute to cancel out the close-range effort with which Gary Breen had given Birmingham the lead only three minutes earlier.

With the crowd willing them on against their local rivals, there seemed no way then that Wolves would not improve their promotion claims with a rare home win.

But it was not to be. Breen, whose first goal of the season had come when Matt Jackson found him in the goalmouth following a move started by Barry Horne's cross-field pass, then contributed to a rugged rearguard action that was occasionally threatened by Bull's speed.

It was from Simon Osborn's perceptive long pass that Bull infiltrated the visiting back four to round Ian Bennett before scoring for the sixth time in seven games. He was in a position to add to that total when Robin van der Laan sent Iwan Roberts racing down the left only to attempt a final pass that was intercepted by Michael Johnson.

With Osborn the controlling influence in midfield until Horne and the outstanding Paul Tait exercised a decisive grip on the game, Wolves continued to enjoy more possession, but not, crucially, clear-cut goalscoring chances.

When one arrived it fell at the other end to Jason Bowen after Van der Laan's slip. The winger ran on and when his shot rebounded from the far post Andy Legg thumped it in.

It was not Wolves' day. Denied a penalty when Johnson upended Mark Atkins, they brought on their substitutes in desperation, including, for the first time in 14 months, the former England international Geoff Thomas. But by now Horne and Tate were winning everything in midfield and Bruce was flinging himself around like a man possessed at the back.

Thomas was determined to make a swift impression. Twice, once on his far weaker right foot, he delivered shots that skimmed past the upright. Panic had long since set in when Mark Venus curled over a long free-kick in the last seconds. Bull's connection was firm but his header flashed wide to end Wolves lingering hopes.

Goals: Breen (7) 0-1; Bull (10) 1-1; Legg (59) 1-2.

Wolves (4-3-1-2): Stowell; Smith, Venus, Richards, Thompson; Atkins, Osborn, Van der Laan (Thomas, 63); Goodman (Dennison, 63); Bull, Roberts. Substitute not used: Emblen.

Birmingham (4-4-2): Bennett; Jackson, Bruce, Breen, Johnson; Holland, Tait, Horne, Legg (Devlin, 76); Furlong (Ablett, 90), Bowen (Newell, 82).

Referee: P Richards (Preston).

Booking: Birmingham: Bowen.

Man of the match: Tait.

Attendance: 22,627.

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