Football: Lambert slays tame Wolves

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The Independent Online
Wolves 0

Reading 1

Lambert 69

Attendance: 23,193

Reading thought the world of Mark McGhee . . . once. Yesterday their former manager gave them something in return - a victory, offered by his ambitious but negligent Wolves side who had a dozen or more chances to win, and lost to Reading's only on-target shot in the whole grubby game.

If on the surface the match was important for Wolves' promotion interests and for Reading's need to placate their downcast fans, it was also impossible not to link it to a strong underlying theme. It was at Reading that McGhee was first noticed as a young manager with a future that was bound to be at somewhere more imposing than Elm Park.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of his subsequent departure from Leicester City to take Graham Taylor's place at Molineux, he seems gradually to be turning Wolves around, which made it all the more frustrating that, albeit weakened by injuries, they have lost the chance of closing in on the top two after a midweek defeat by Bolton and yesterday's slovenly performance.

Steve Bull remains the focal point for Wolves. Ten years on and he remains as direct and unsubtle as ever, but now temporarily blunt. Partnered by the similarly physical Iwan Roberts, here he led a freshly arranged 4-4-2 line-up that had Reading's borrowed goalkeeper from Nottingham Forest, Tommy Wright, earning his rent. With their two senior goalkeepers unavailable, Reading had called up Wright as late as Friday afternoon. He soon rewarded them by superbly turning away a 24th-minute shot from Mark Atkins, but the only player on either side who consistently raised the game above the mundane was Reading's James Lambert, who skimmed the crossbar with a sleepy looking shot and kept the Wolves midfield awake to his invention.

The Wolves midfield was so lacking in invention that what chances fell to Bull and Roberts were generally hurried, unfulfilled affairs. When Roberts succumbed to injury, Glen Crowe took his place and within seconds of half-time was smartly nipping into the Reading penalty area.

Crowe continued to reap what little profit there was from Wolves' slight improvement in second-half creativity but his finishing was not much better than the rest. Possession, which dominated, meant little, and while Lambert had a limited amount, he remained most likely to unravel the untidiness.

After 68 minutes Lambert punished Wolves for their haphazard defending. Dean Richards failed to converge meaningfully on Lambert who slotted his shot deftly past Mike Stowell after moving quickly through the penalty area.

By the end McGhee must surely have been wondering how it was his modest former club could spike the ambition of one so manifestly affluent as Wolves. The answer was no different to the one put forward in several recent matches - insubstantial defending and sloppy finishing. After a one-hour dressing-room post-mortem examination, McGhee accepted that "even without our injuries we ought to be doing a lot better than this".