Football: Curle still in credit despite debit

West Bromwich Albion 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Online
PHIL SHAW

West Bromwich Albion 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

Keith Curle achieved the rare distinction of uniting the feuding factions in the Black Country derby yesterday, if not in a manner Wolves' captain will remember with any fondness.

A farcical own goal by the former England defender, which proved sufficient to give West Brom the joint leadership of the First Division, prompted the gold and black quarter of a near-capacity Hawthorns crowd into a sympathetic chorus of "There's only one Keith Curle". The Albion supporters gleefully joined in.

Harmony was otherwise in predictably short supply. While the fans exchanged profanities, the sides traded fierce challenges, Mr Heilbron being far too lenient in issuing only four cautions. When the dust had settled, the satisfaction was all Albion's, with their 100 per cent record intact and the double they conceded to Wolves last season partially avenged.

The second of those defeats hastened the demise of Alan Buckley as manager. On this evidence, his successor, Ray Harford, has bought shrewdly and, in players such as Sean Flynn, has added a combative element.

Nevertheless, Wolves began the game in more composed fashion. Mike Stowell made an excellent early save to keep out a Richard Sneekes shot which deflected off Curle - who should have quit while ahead - but Alan Miller was initially the busier keeper.

Miller denied Steve Bull what would have been his second goal in 12 matches with a brilliant save after 13 minutes. But before Wolves could test him again, they were undone by a wretched misunderstanding at the back.

Curle, attempting to cut out Sneekes' through ball to Paul Peschisolido, succeeded only in turning it past Stowell, who had charged out of his area. The first goal Mark McGhee's men have conceded, it will still rank among the sloppiest come May.

Bull, Wolves' record marksman, soon had another chance to score against his first club, but volleyed wildly over from five yards to provoke taunts of "Savo" in recognition of a supposed similarity with the Aston Villa misfit Milosevic.

Yet even before the interval, Albion were gaining the ascendancy. Andy Hunt's shot was scrambled off the line by Jamie Smith, Kevin Kilbane nodding the follow-up wide.

The one time his goal was threatened, Paul Raven capped a peerless display with a textbook sliding tackle on Bull. McGhee sought solace in the fact that an opponent has still to score against Wolves, and gave Curle and Stowell much of the credit for that. The ever-lugubrious Harford cautioned that Albion were "a long way from a promotion team", but try telling that to their followers today.

Goal: Curle og (16) 1-0.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Miller; Holmes, Mardon, Raven, Nicholson; Flynn, Sneekes, Butler, Kilbane (Hamilton, 78); Peschisolido (Hughes, 62), Hunt. Substitute not used: Dobson.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-3-1-2): Stowell; Smith, Curle, Sedgley, Kubicki; Atkins, Ferguson, Froggatt; Keane (Paatelainen, 58); Bull, Goodman. Substitutes not used: Robinson, Westwood.

Referee: T Heilbron (Co Durham).

Bookings: Albion: Nicholson, Raven. Wolves: Bull, Ferguson.

Man of the match: Raven. Attendance: 21,511.

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