Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 Bristol City 1 match report: Wolves bite back after first-half horror show
Whether, as their manager Dean Saunders suggested afterwards, this match proves to be a turning point in Wolves' season remains to be seen. They are, after all, still in the relegation zone with just eight games remaining.
They will however take huge heart from the manner in which they turned around a game in which for over an hour pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Having conceded a truly ridiculous own goal and lost two players to injury it would have been easy for heads to drop, but Wolves kept working, and strikes of high quality from Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Kevin Doyle secured a first home win since December.
"Everything was going wrong, we looked lacking in confidence, we weren't sharp and we conceded a calamity goal, the sort you can't believe has happened," said Saunders.
"When we went in at half-time I had a go at everyone. But I've been in this situation as a player and a manager, and you have to keep your belief. You have to have the strength of character to show for the ball, go in for another chance when you've missed three, take the full-back on, and in the second half my players showed that strength of character."
The first half was a horror show for Wolves. Looking both nervous and disjointed from the start, they had created nothing of note when they went behind in extraordinary circumstances.
Carl Ikeme played a goal-kick short towards David Davis, but the under-hit pass left the young midfielder with no alternative other than to return the ball to his goalkeeper. Ikeme, unable to pick the ball up, allowed it to trickle under his foot and into the goal.
The ground was still in shock when first Bakary Sako and then Dave Edwards limped off, and Saunders' decision to replace Ikeme with Dorus De Vries at half-time meant he had used all three substitutes with 45 minutes left to play.
"It wasn't an easy ball for Carl to deal with but he has to get something behind it. He had also hurt his hand on the field, and that made my mind up [to replace him]," said Saunders.
Initially there was no obvious improvement in the second half, and the crowd began to voice their disaffection, most obviously with chants aimed at club owner Steve Morgan, but the Wolves players kept working and in Stephen Hunt, who came on for Sako, they found the catalyst they needed.
It was his cross which enabled Ebanks-Blake to control, turn and volley powerfully past City goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Two minutes later, it was another Hunt cross which saw Doyle time his jump perfectly to beat Heaton with a header.
City manager Sean O'Driscoll was philosophical. "I was pleased with the performance but disappointed with the result," he said.
"We said at half-time they were just going to throw balls into the box, which is what they did, and we kept trying to do the right thing. We looked like a team that knew what we were doing."
What they lacked, however, was the touch of quality which players like Hunt and Doyle, with their considerable Premier League experience, gave Wolves.
It did not escape Saunders' attention that the crowd had been on Hunt's back from the moment he came on. "I thought Hunt did everything well," he said. "He gave us energy and spark, and I'll have to find out why the fans were having a go because normally they like players like that.
"We have the belief that we can score, no matter what the circumstances. They were great finishes from Ebanks-Blake and Doyle. You can't play for a big club unless you can play in adversity, because most of the time that is the case. That's why you get big wages."
Wolves (4-4-2): Ikeme (De Vries, h-t); Doherty, Johnson, Gorkss, Robinson; Edwards (Sigurdarson, 38), Davis O'Hara, Sako (Hunt, 32); Doyle, Ebanks-Blake.
Bristol City (4-5-1): Heaton; Moloney, Fontaine, Nyatanga, Cunningham; Anderson (Adamoah, 15), Skuse, Kelly (Kilkenny, 85), Elliott, Pearson (Baldock, 81); Davies.
Referee Geoff Eltringham.
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