An eventful week for Mike Newell, the Luton manager, looked set to end on an upbeat note last night when Steve Howard's header cancelled out the first career goal by Wolves' 17-year-old midfielder, Mark Davies. Paul Ince had other ideas.
Only two minutes remained when Wolves' captain swung his left boot at the ball 25 yards out. Ince's volley flashed past Marlon Beresford to deprive Luton of the point promised by Howard's 80th-minute equaliser, send Wolves into the top six and provide a bright ending to a dour match more about play-offs than pay-offs.
Newell was doubtless relieved to get back to playing matches after 48 hours in which his allegations about a "bung culture" hit the headlines. Speaking shortly before kick-off he claimed to have received overwhelming support and promised to "fight" if he was "hung out to dry", adding pointedly that certain people were "defending themselves before they've been accused of anything".
Luton's previous game was the proverbial eight-goal thriller against Liverpool in the FA Cup. Newell lolled against the dug-out, supping from a water bottle just as he did when the European champions were briefly being put to the sword. Yet the contrast in the occasion and the atmosphere could scarcely have been more pronounced.
Glenn Hoddle, having sent Wolves out in 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formations for most of the season, had opted for 3-5-2 with Ince protecting his defence. But there was a lethargy about the sides in the early stages which had nothing to do with systems. Tom Huddlestone, soon to return from Molineux to Tottenham after his loan spell, had a sixth-minute chance diverted behind, and Mark Kennedy tested Beresford as half-time approached. In between, the contest was a barren wasteland.
"We've had a shot on goal," sang a sardonic South Bank after the Kennedy effort. When the fourth official raised the board to show two minutes of stoppage time, he was greeted by a chorus of booing.
Things could only get better, to coin a phrase, and Wolves ended the stalemate in the 57th minute. The move was started by the oldest man on the pitch, Ince, 38, surging through the centre before feeding Mark Kennedy on the left. It was finished by the youngest, Davies slotting in after Beresford parried Leon Clarke's shot from the cross.
For all the scorer's youthfulness it was the senior players, Ince and Kennedy, who had stirred Wolves their torpor. Minutes after the breakthrough, Kennedy unleashed a shot which Beresford did well to beat aside, but this time no one was on hand to convert the loose ball.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-5-2): Postma; R Edwards, Craddock, Lescott; Ross, Ince, Davies, Huddlestone, Kennedy; Cort, Clarke (Ganea, 78). Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Anderton, Seol, Ricketts.
Luton Town (4-4-2): Beresford; Foley, Heikkinen, Coyne, Underwood; C Edwards, Nicholls, Showunmi, Brkovic; Howard, Vine (Feeney, 65). Substitutes not used: Brill (gk), Barnett, Morgan, Bell.
Referee: M Dean (The Wirral).Reuse content