Ebanks-Blake provides bite for Wolves

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Online

Frustrated Wolves manager Mick McCarthy might not be able to name too many reliable characters in his inconsistent team but at least there is Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.

Among the 26 players he has used in his latest bid to regain a place in the Premier League, only a handful have compelled him to pick them every week and even the stocky former Plymouth Argyle striker has been known to have the occasional poor game. But there is no forward in the Championship with a better focused eye for goal and in a scrappy contest typical of a broadly even division it was Ebanks-Blake who provided the decisive moment, heading home his 23rd goal of the season in only the fifth minute.

It was enough to provide McCarthy with a second single-goal win in four days, maintaining their place at the top of the division after a run of one win in 11 that could have been calamitous had their rivals for promotion not shown an equal unwillingness to make a break for the line.

Of their immediate rivals, Birmingham stay in touch after their win over Southampton but Reading's draw means the gap between first and third is seven points, and while Steve Coppell's team have two matches in hand the season has reached the stage when points banked begin to have greater value.

Ebanks-Blake secured Tuesday's 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace and his tally for the season is already the equal of his score for 2007-08, which was enough to win him the Championship's Golden Boot award. He might yet hit 30 for the current campaign, particularly if he comes up against defences as compliant as Wednesday's.

Michael Kightly, shifting on to his left foot to cross from the right flank, provided a decent delivery but his team-mate's task was made easier by a Wednesday back four who clearly had not decided who should pick up their most dangerous opponent.

The 22-year-old, who honed his skills in Manchester United's youth team before making his mark with Plymouth, almost set up a 14th-minute second goal for Wolves with a near-post cross that Lee Grant did well to block as Kightly tried to force the ball in. Eight minutes before half-time, he had the Wednesday goal in his sights only for the ball to spin wide off defender Richard Hinds.

Wednesday, beaten at home by Reading on Tuesday, needed at least a point yesterday to keep alive their outside chance of a play-off place. They kept Wolves busy in defence, where Jody Craddock was outstanding, and were not without opportunities, not least when Jermaine Johnson skipped past two defenders after 34 minutes but lost his composure when the goal loomed into view, his shot soaring towards the upper tier of the stand behind Wayne Hennessey's goal, much to the amusement of the Wolves fans assembled there.

Johnson probably had Wednesday's best chance in the second half, when Marcus Tudgay's centre found him unmarked on the far left of the penalty area. He steadied himself this time but though his shot was better directed it lacked venom.

"We were excellent in the first half," McCarthy said. "In the second half I expected Wednesday to make more of a fist of it, which they did. But I don't remember Wayne having to dive around too much. It was a solid, comprehensive win."

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