Branch's brace leaves Royle's recruit in shade

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The Independent Football

Joe Royle paraded the £1.5m centre-forward Robert Taylor for a debut at Molineux but saw his new capture upstaged by a striker he wanted to sign a year ago, as First Division leaders Manchester City slumped to a second defeat in seven days.

Joe Royle paraded the £1.5m centre-forward Robert Taylor for a debut at Molineux but saw his new capture upstaged by a striker he wanted to sign a year ago, as First Division leaders Manchester City slumped to a second defeat in seven days.

Seizing an early grip, Wolves condemned City to their heaviest defeat for two seasons, inspired by a two-goal home debut by the 21-year-old Michael Branch, on loan to Colin Lee's team after being transfer-listed. Branch spent a month with City last season but Walter Smith, the Everton manager, could not be persuaded to sell.

City, unbeaten in 10 matches before Huddersfield's win at Maine Road last Saturday, had forgotten how it feels to suffer the kind of nightmare start that Wolves inflicted on them inside the opening 20 minutes.

The home side, in need of a confidence-restorer themselves after two consecutive defeats, announced their positive mood by winning a corner from their first attack and were in front after five minutes when Ade Akinbiyi scrambled the ball past Nicky Weaver.

Much of the credit was due to Neil Emblen, whose powerful header from Andy Sinton's cross was only pushed on to the crossbar by Nicky Weaver. It spun kindly for Akinbiyi, who stooped to head home his ninth goal in 16 matches since his transfer from Bristol City.

Taylor, the burly former Gillingham striker, hit back by rattling Michael Oakes' woodwork with a snap shot but Wolves had their tails up and the 18th minute saw Branch open his account. Sinton swapped passes with Akinbiyi before Branch took over, tucking an angled shot out of Weaver's reach.

City hauled themselves back into contention when Shaun Goater slid into the six-yard box to convert Mark Kennedy's low cross, but Wolves confirmed their early supremacy when Branch added his second five minutes before half-time.

The match intensified after the break and the referee Steve Bennett's patience ran out with the entry of Jamie Pollock, whose first contribution after replacing Danny Granville in the 56th minute was to bring down Emblen from behind, earning a yellow card.

With Kennedy posing a repeated threat along the left, one sensed City might yet mount a recovery but their chance was dealt a terminal blow when, having conceded three goals for the first time this season, they let in a fourth on 68 minutes.

Pushing forward, their defence was caught hopelessly out of position and outnumbered as Simon Osborn released Darren Bazeley on the right. Kevin Muscat arrived unattended at the near post and scored with relative ease to leave City heads drooping and Royle bemused.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Oakes; Muscat, Pollet, Curle, Naylor; Bazeley, Emblen, Osborn, Sinton (S Taylor, 90); Akinbiyi, Branch (Corica, 85). Substitutes not used: Stowell (gk), Robinson, Sedgley.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Edghill, Wiekens, Jobson, Granville (Pollock, 56); Whitley (Tiatto, 56), Horlock, Bishop, Kennedy; R Taylor, Goater. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Crooks, G Taylor.

Referee: S Bennett (Orpington).

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