Early last month, Wolverhampton Wanderers stood third and Crystal Palace, having just escaped the bottom three, were 17th. More astonishing even than the subsequent 20-place swing, though, are the perverse sub-plots. Mick McCarthy, in charge at the Championship equivalent of Newcastle United, signs six strikers who can't buy a goal, presides over eight successive winless league games and still finds himself in demand as an international manager.
Neil Warnock, without spending a penny of Simon Jordan's fortune, sits in the top six and on a 14-game unbeaten league run with a team he struggles to avoid calling "ragamuffin". The stock of the two is hurtling in opposite directions and, along with consoling words from the victor for a counterpart now considered close to Molineux's well-trodden trapdoor, there was enormous pride.
"For the same players to do what we've done is one of my best achievements in the game," he said. "I could not see a goal, let alone a point, when I first came here and said to my wife: 'What have we done?' I think we can get a lot better in the second half of the season." While Warnock approaches his longest undefeated run as a manager – 15 games with Notts County in 1989-90 that sealed promotion to this level – more ominous statistics pile up for McCarthy.
Wolves are comfortably the division's lowest scorers and, painfully, their goals-for column is three less than the goal difference of their neighbours West Bromwich Albion. Sporadic chants broke out against a manager still strongly linked with the Republic of Ireland after his courting by the South Koreans in the autumn and Wolves' plethora of chances and near misses came when they were well adrift.
They were feeble in a first half containing Clinton Morrison's clinical 10th goal in 12 appearances, 17-year-old Sean Scannell adding an opportunist second. The third, crashed in from 30 yards by James Scowcroft, was stunning. John Halls, unveiled as Palace's third loan signing, made an assured debut. Warnock for Newcastle anybody?
Goals: Morrison (24) 0-1; Scannell (49) 0-2; Scowcroft (66) 0-3.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Hennessey; Foley, D Ward, Collins, Gray; Henry, Gibson (Jarvis, 41), Potter, S Ward (Keogh, 53); Ebanks-Blake (Eastwood, 53), Bothroyd. Substitutes not used: Ikeme (gk), Edwards.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Speroni; Halls, Lawrence, Hudson, Hill (Hills, 64); Soares, Derry (Moses, 84), Watson; Scannell (Grabban, 68), Scowcroft, Morrison. Substitutes not used: Freedman, Fletcher.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Watson.
Attendance: 22,650.Reuse content