Football: Corica seizes his chance

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The Independent Online
Birmingham City 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

Corica 13

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 28,143

IN A fixture as hard-fought and fiercely contested as this, it took an Australian to turn Birmingham's world upside-down and condemn them to defeat in this Midlands derby. Steve Corica's smartly taken 13th- minute goal was all it took to separate the sides, and suddenly Birmingham's participation in the play-offs does not look so definite, after their second defeat in three games.

Yet Wolves, who defended stubbornly and played a perfect game-plan of contain and counter-attack once they had scored, are 10 games unbeaten and finding form at exactly the right time of the season.

Corica, formerly at Leicester, chose quite a game to score his first goal of the season and his first in two-and-a-half years, a run of form partly down to suffering two cruciate knee injuries. But after an inept performance by Wolves last week in their goalless draw with Crystal Palace, the Wolves manager Colin Lee dropped David Connolly and put Corica in his place, and got the perfect response. As Lee said: "Corica had a superb game."

Corica started the move, as he found some space in a surprisingly open midfield and he put Neil Emblen away down the right flank. The midfielder beat his marker and cut inside, where he slipped the ball to Corica, who did the rest with a first- time finish from just inside the box. The striker said: "It was my most important goal for Wolves. We really needed three points and we went for it. Now we've got to keep winning."

That strike came against the run of play, as Wolves had faded after an initially bright start which saw Kevin Muscat force Kevin Poole in the Birmingham goal into a sharp low save. In among the frantic nature of this fixture, both sides also played some measured football and, in their best move of the first half, the home side almost equalised.

With 21 minutes gone Jon McCarthy, in midfield, found Peter Ndlovu in some space and the Zimbabwean in turn moved the ball on to Bryan Hughes out on the left touchline. His cross reached McCarthy, who had continued his run, but the Northern Ireland international put his volley high and wide.

Birmingham came even closer to pulling level with a far scrappier effort just three minutes later. Grainger swung in a corner from the right that Michael Johnson, at the far post, headed on target only for Michael Gilkes to clear off the line with a header of his own. With that in mind, Corica added afterwards: "We had a little bit of luck."

Birmingham were then left with good reason for thinking Corica's well- taken goal was something of a fluke. On a rare sortie upfield, the ball fell to him with half an hour gone and, although free and unmarked inside the penalty area, he squirted his shot wide of Poole's left post. That turned out to be Wolves' last attempt on goal, as they sat deep for the rest of the game, inviting Birmingham at them. For all their possession, their manager Trevor Francis complained later: "We have problems in the forward areas."

Yet the home side tried to respond, and Dele Adebola - "he's not quite at full throttle" sighed Francis - then had two chances in quick succession. With 36 minutes gone, the ball dropped at his feet eight yards out but, in the split-second he had to shoot, his control failed him and the chance had gone. Two minutes later, Adebola saw his volley saved comfortably by Mike Stowell. It was a special and assured afternoon for the Wolves goalkeeper - Stowell was making his 421st appearance for his club, breaking the 42-year-old club goalkeeping record held by Bert Williams.

He saved his best for 14 minutes from the end, when the substitute Lee Bradbury shot from close range, only for Stowell to tip the ball on to the crossbar and behind for a corner, a moment that summed up Lee's post- match praise: "Every player takes credit today for their hard work."