Football: Bull keeps Wolves in the hunt

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The Independent Online
Birmingham City 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 2

Steve Bull, scoring after 45 seconds and making a second for Don Goodman soon afterwards, set Wolves on the way to their 11th away victory of the season in last night's First Division derby at St Andrew's. Given a remotely comparable record at Molineux, Mark McGhee's side would be vying with Bolton for the title rather than scrapping for the second automatic promotion place.

Birmingham remain burdened by the opposite problem. Despite mounting concerted pressure after Nicky Forster's 70th-minute goal, they were unable to find the equaliser that would have staved off a fifth consecutive home defeat and eased the relegation fears of their manager, Trevor Francis.

In truth, Wolves made hard work of it. During the first half, Neil Emblen dominated midfield with a display which combined a powerful physical presence with no little finesse. The front two, Bull and Goodman, proved too sharp for Birmingham's slow-turning defenders.

After half-time, however, they let the tempo drop and began playing a more measured game, ill-suited to some of McGhee's players.

Birmingham sensed that all might not be lost and, after halving the deficit, sent on the 6ft 7in Kevin Francis. Fortunately for Wolves, their goalkeeper Mike Stowell dealt capably with the ensuing aerial assault.

Bull had reportedly looked jaded before being substituted in Wolves' latest home disappointment, Saturday's 0-0 draw with Ipswich. This time, in their very first attack, he raced on to Steve Corica's pass, turned inside Steve Bruce with an aplomb bordering on contempt, and buried a brutal low shot into the gap between Ian Bennett and his left-hand upright.

It was the former England striker's 19th goal this season and his 299th of his career. When he climbed to meet Emblen's 24th-minute cross, the Wolves fans rose in anticipation of numbers 20 and 300 respectively.

Bennett parried Bull's header into the air, only for Goodman, without a goal since November, to nod it over the line.

Birmingham's spirited response belied their recent run. Martin O'Connor's diving header rebounded off the foot of a post on the half hour, while Stowell made fine saves to keep out two long range drives by Michael Johnson.

In between, Forster showed impressive pace and determination to shrug off Mark Atkins's challenge before cutting in from the right. When his shot came back to him off Keith Curle, the newcomer from Brentford dispatched it passed Stowell by the near post.

Wolves held out for their fourth straight away win, a sequence they last managed in the Fourth Division 10 seasons ago.

Birmingham City (3-5-2): Bennett; Bruce, Ablett, Johnson; Bass, Tait (Holland, 59), O'Connor, Horne, Grainger (Furlong, 87); Newell (Francis, 75), Forster.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-5-2): Stowell; Curle, Atkins, Venus; Thompson, Emblen, Osborn, Corica, Froggatt (Smith, 41); Goodman (Roberts, 77), Bull. Substitute not used: Ferguson.

Referee: M Brandwood (Lichfield).