Hulse puts the brakes on Wolves' advance

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Crewe Alexandra 1
Click to follow
The Independent Football

To the dismay of an expectant Molineux, Wolves last night surrendered the Nationwide League's only unbeaten record when Rob Hulse's deftly taken second-half goal ended Crewe's run of 13 First Division away games without a win.

Victory for Dave Jones' remodelled side would have equalled Wolves' best start – nine wins and three draws in 1949-50 – as well as taking them eight points clear in the race to reach the Premiership. But Crewe attacked dangerously and then defended defiantly in the face of a late siege which saw every outfield player in or around the visitors' area.

One feature of Wolves' early success has been their unusually large number of goalscorers. Kevin Muscat almost became the 13th with only four minutes gone, his diagonal volley from 25 yards twanging the bar like a bow. Another defender yet to figure on the list of marksmen, Paul Butler, came equally close 11 minutes later when his low shot smacked against Ademole Bankole's left-hand upright.

Crewe, however, performed with the confidence of a side themselves unbeaten in four league matches, twice coming close. Each time Rodney Jack was the provider. From his cross after five minutes, Hulse sent a diving header wide, while Jack's long pass to Dean Ashton on the quarter-hour forced a desperate, smothering save from Michael Oakes.

Disabused of any notions of an easy win, Wolves reasserted their authority, utilising two old-fashioned wingers as they poured forward yet eschewing the long-ball game that was once their trademark. Jolean Lescott might have struck twice from headers in the space of two minutes before the half-hour, the second being scrambled off the line by Kenny Lunt.

To Crewe's credit, they kept responding in kind. Five minutes before the break, Hulse left Muscat floundering in his wake with a powerful run down the left, Oakes touching the ensuing shot on to the far post.

An assured start to the second half, with the ball being pushed around at ground level in the manner that has typified Dario Gradi's teams down the years, brought Crewe a 53rd-minute goal. The telling pass was for once lofted and long, Lunt's marvellous cross-field delivery picking out Hulse, who ignored Wolves' appeals for an offside flag to lob his fifth goal of the season beyond the advancing Oakes.

The momentum Wolves had generated during the opening 45 minutes suddenly dissipated. The service to the front two became virtually non-existent, prompting Jones to send on Alex Rae. But Crewe continued to look the more cohesive unit, and Oakes had to palm aside a drive by the impressive Lunt shortly after the hour.

Rae strove hard to reinvigorate Wolves, his thumping shot from 30 yards stinging Bankole's hands as he pushed the ball over, but Efe Sodje's goalline clearance from Shaun Newton moments later was a sign that Crewe would not give up their prize lightly.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Oakes; Muscat, Lescott, Butler, Naylor; Newton, Cameron, Robinson (Rae, 59), Kennedy; Blake, Proudlock (Roussel, 78). Substitutes not used: Andrews, Connelly, Murray (gk).

Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Bankole; Foster, Walton, Sodje, Smith; Lunt, Sorvel, Brammer, Jack (Collins, 81); Ashton, Hulse (Thomas, 90). Substitutes not used: Little, Rix, Ince (gk).

Referee: R Pearson (Co Durham).