Wolverhampton W 2
Nottingham Forest 1
At this rate they will have to re-name it Fortress Molineux. Wolves missed out on automatic promotion in May because of inhibited form in front of their demanding fans, but yesterday's deserved victory over second- placed Nottingham Forest takes them into the Christmas programme with one of only three unbeaten home records in the First Division.
After dropping 34 of the 69 points available on their own patch last season, Wolves' improvement has been so marked that they have not even trailed there in the League this time. Dougie Freedman and Carl Robinson maintained the pattern, giving them a two-goal advantage before Forest replied through Andy Johnson.
Dave Bassett's side thus failed to secure the win that would have taken them level on points with the leaders, Middlesbrough. Wolves rose one rung to ninth, yet Mark McGhee must be satisfied to be approaching the half-way point of the campaign just two points adrift of the play-off zone.
Wolves' third win in four matches was achieved without the injured Steve Bull. For once, however, his name hardly passed the lips of his legions of admirers. They were too busy chanting in praise of Robbie Keane, the prodigiously gifted 17-year-old from Dublin whose deft touches and sheer exuberance set an example to his more experienced colleagues.
Trying to curb Keane is like attempting to nail down a blob of mercury. Running free between midfield and attack, he was instrumental in Wolves' playing a more patient and fluid style. Ironically, Keane turned down Forest in favour of an offer from Graham Taylor three years ago, despite receiving what he described as "red-carpet treatment" from Bassett's predecessor, Frank Clark.
On this occasion the welcome was more red meat than red carpet, Bassett using the euphemism "full-blooded" to sum up the fare. It had nothing on the battle of Stamford Bridge, but the undercurrent of antipathy often bubbled over into nastiness. Keith Curle and Pierre van Hooijdonk were frequently at odds, as were Freedman and Steve Chettle, but the referee largely avoided what Bassett termed "the yellow confetti" and issued only three cautions.
Forest, deprived of Dave Beasant and Steve Stone by illness and injury, dominated until Wolves struck midway through the first half. Don Goodman's centre from the right went all the way across to the left flank, where Steve Froggat was charging forward. He mis-hit his shot, only for Keane to step over the ball and throw Forest into confusion. Freedman pounced to collect his first goal in six matches.
Three minutes later, after taking a Robinson pass and turning a defender, Freedman hit the bar from 18 yards, and it took Forest until well into the second half to regain ascendancy. Woan, on his 30th birthday, then sent a long-range drive inches wide and ought to have done better than head over Des Lyttle's cross.
But by the time Van Hooijdonk threatened from 35 yards, with a free-kick that Mike Stowell tipped over, Wolves had sunk their teeth in a second time. Paul Simpson lifted the ball into the six-yard box, whereupon Craig Armstrong inexplicably ducked. Robinson sliced his shot from five yards but the miskick took the ball out of Marco Pascolo's reach.
Johnson gave Forest hope when he beat the hesitant Stowell to Kevin Campbell's flick-on from a Colin Cooper pass. The substitute's first goal since a summer switch from Norwich came too late to undermine Wolves' determination to sustain their new-found consistency at Molineux.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-3-1-2): Stowell; Atkins, Curle, Sedgley, Froggatt; Robinson, Osborn, Simpson; Keane; Freedman (Ferguson, 77), Goodman. Substitutes not used: Paatelainen, Wright.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Pascolo; Lyttle (Moore, 88), Hjelde (Armstrong, 12), Chettle, Rogers (Johnson, 77); Bonalair, Cooper, Gemmill, Woan; Campbell, Van Hooijdonk.
Referee: M Bailey (Impington, Cambs).
Bookings: Wolves: Goodman. Forest: Woan, Van Hooijdonk.
Man of the match: Curle.Reuse content