Football: Keane's edge rejuvenates Wolves attack
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Birmingham City 1
Monday 23 November 1998
Birmingham, who had won 3-1 at West Bromwich on their previous trip to the Black Country a fortnight earlier, could not have envisaged being on the receiving end of the same scoreline when they entered the final 18 minutes leading by Paul Furlong's goal. But then came an equaliser by Lee Naylor, 18, before Carl Robinson, 22, struck twice to lift Wolves into fifth place.
However, the catalyst for their third victory in Lee's four-match unbeaten run since succeeding Mark McGhee in a caretaker capacity was another 18- year-old, Robbie Keane. The Irishman was making only his second appearance as substitute following a six-week injury lay-off, yet his pace and persistence gradually undermined the assurances that looked likely to bring Birmingham a sixth away win.
Afterwards, Lee called for Wolves to end the uncertainty over the managerial vacancy. "It would help everyone if the situation was resolved quickly."
Birmingham had been well worth their interval lead. Making much better use of the flanks than Wolves, they also carried a greater threat up front and went ahead when the two elements came together midway through the first half.
Gary Rowett's low cross found Wolves' defenders neglecting the most elementary of marking duties. Furlong, materialising by the penalty spot, snaked out his left leg to collect his third goal of the season. With Ndlovu showing no signs of fatigue after returning from a family funeral in Zimbabwe, Birmingham must have been confident of adding to their advantage.
Mike Stowell, the home goalkeeper, saved well from Ndlovu's long-range effort and excelled again by touching Rowett's curling free-kick on to the post. Wolves, lightweight in midfield and with all their presence concentrated in the back three, had only an off-target drive by Robinson and two optimistic penalty appeals to show for their first-half endeavours.
The tactical change by Lee that saw Keane's introduction as a third striker immediately transformed the contest. Instantly clattered by Michael Johnson, who was cautioned, he would have equalised on the hour but for Kevin Poole's reflex save from a point-blank header, while his sheer ebullience lifted crowd and colleagues alike. Wolves duly drew level after 72 minutes. Keith Curle's long pass found Naylor breaking in the inside-left channel. The teenager skipped over challenges by Jon McCarthy and Darren Purse before stabbing his first goal of the season.
Rowett and Chris Marsden missed chances to regain the initiative for Birmingham before Keane set up Wolves' second goal 11 minutes from time. His cushioned pass under pressure was met by a fierce, swirling shot by Robinson from 20 yards. In stoppage time, the Welshman put the outcome beyond doubt by capping a lightning counter-attack with a marvellous volley from an identical distance.
Goals: Furlong (21), 0-1; Naylor (72) 1-1; Robinson (79) 2-1; Robinson (90) 3-1.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-5-2): Stowell; Richards, Curle, Sedgley; Muscat, Robinson, Osborn, Corica (Keane, 50), Naylor; Whittingham, Connolly. Substitutes not used: Niestroj, Emblen.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Poole; Rowett, Purse, Johnson, Charlton (Forster, 78); McCarthy, Holland, Marsden, Hughes (Grainger, 54); Furlong, Ndlovu. Substitute not used: Ablett.
Referee: Heilbron (Co Durham).
Bookings: Birmingham Purse, Marsden, Johnson. Man of the match: Keane.
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