Football: Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Crewe Alexandra 0 - Connolly shapes Wolves' fine show

WOLVES ARE changing their spots, if a mixed metaphor may be permitted. No longer are the First Division's perennial underachievers looking like blowing away the eternal Molineux optimism just as they enter the season's final stage by losing against lowly opposition.

With a more pragmatic team under the guidance of Colin Lee and John Ward, Wolves are now steadying their aim for the play-offs and last night made light of the enforced absence of their bright young thing, Robbie Keane, away with the Republic of Ireland Under-20s, and of their suspended captain, Keith Curle, to move six points clear of seventh place.

David Connolly, stepping into his compatriot's shoes, played a crucial role in the victory that leaves Crewe treading water in their attempts to avoid relegation. Twice within as many minutes he was fouled by Chris Lightfoot; twice the Crewe central defender was cautioned, and thus sent off. Numerically challenged, the visitors were immediately punished further as Wolves went ahead through Carl Robinson in the 14th minute. Kevin Muscat, receiving Dean Richards' pass, centred and, after Phil Charnock miscued, Robinson swept in his seventh goal of the season.

Dario Gradi's side would have pulled out of the relegation zone for the first time since October with a victory, but the dismissal precipitated a second successive 3-0 defeat. "We were all over the place after the sending-off," said the Crewe manager. "We didn't know what we were doing for the rest of the half."

And it showed as Wolves doubled their lead after 25 minutes when Robinson played Muscat in again down the right flank and the Australian, cutting back on to his left foot, centred low for Haavard Flo to toe-poke the ball home at the near post.

Even when Crewe re-shaped in the second period Wolves, defeated just once in 13 League games, were dominant. After 79 minutes, Connolly was upended by the goalkeeper Jason Kearton and Muscat hammered in the penalty.

"Until we've got enough points and no one can catch us, we'll keep plugging away and working hard and see where that leaves us," said Lee.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (3--5-2): Stowell; Richards, Sedgley, Emblen; Muscat, Robinson, Osborn, Corica (Niestroj, 79), Gilkes (Naylor, 79); Flo (Simpson, 83), Connolly.

Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Kearton; D Wright, Lightfoot, Walton (Unsworth, 79), Smith; Murphy, Charnock (Macauley, 71), Johnson, Rivers; Jack, Newell (Street, 74).

Referee: E Wolstenholme (Blackburn).

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