Mick McCarthy, when an apprentice at Barnsley, used to polish Neil Warnock's boots, but the Wolverhampton Wanderers manager was in no mood to bow and scrape at Selhurst Park last night. Instead, thanks to Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's penalty after 72 minutes, his team just about asserted themselves on proceedings and McCarthy may just have seen his side's promotion charge re-find its bearings.
After the run Wolves have been on since Boxing Day – this was only their second win in 12 games – there is no guarantee that they will be able to follow this victory with another to keep themselves ahead of their promotion rivals, but this will go a long way to restoring some confidence. This is, after all, the team that leads the Championship by five points from Reading, and is therefore supposedly the best in the Football League.
Not on recent form, but just as crucial has been Birmingham City's and Reading's reversal of form. It has been Wolves' good fortune that both their automatic promotion rivals have been enduring a similar dose of the jitters.
The rain coming down like stair rods – when it was not going horizontally into the players' faces – was not exactly conducive to the beautiful game, although once the visitors had accustomed themselves to the conditions, they created chances against Crystal Palace, a side marooned in mid-table and with only one win in eight league games this year.
McCarthy's team found their poise after 20 minutes. Ebanks-Blake shot low at Julian Speroni, the goalkeeper, after a defensive mix-up. The forward was later to better his opponent to decisive effect.
Michael Kightly, dangerous on either flank, was the man brought down for the spot-kick, when he ran at the heart of the defence. Clint Hill dived in, ill-advisedly, and the referee, Graham Horwood, looked to his assistant, who flagged for a penalty. Ebanks-Blake tucked away the spot-kick with ease.
"It's about results, always," a relieved McCarthy said. "When you've gone as long as we have without a win, it's always about winning. The first-half was as dominant as we've been recently. We could have won by more. I can't deny there's a relief and the clean sheet was important. It was a good sound performance."
That first-half also saw Chris Iwelumo denied by the boot of Hill, although the visitors, five minutes after half-time, had to thank their goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey when he dived to touch Paul Ifill's free-kick on to the post. "That was a super save," Warnock said, "but it was never a penalty. It was a tangle."
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Clyne, Lawrence, Jose Fonte, Hill; Derry, Danns, Hills (Oster, 66), Scannell (Stokes, 60); Ifill, Lee (Scowcroft, 77). Substitutes not used: Ertl, Rui Fonte.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Hennessey; Foley, Craddock, Berra, Hill; Kightly (Stearman, 90), Henry, Edwards, Friend; Iwelumo (Vokes, 89), Ebanks-Blake (Keogh, 82). Substitutes not used: D Ward, Reid.
Referee: G Horwood (Bedfordshire).Reuse content