It took a glance back into Craig Bellamy's long and chequered career to remind yourself why the Wolves fans sang the name of Kevin Muscat when the Manchester City striker got the ball last night. Eleven years ago, the brutal Muscat put Bellamy out of the game for four months with a tackle at Molineux.
That was back in December 1998 when Bellamy was just a mouthy young kid at Norwich City trying to take on the world. Now, seven clubs down the line, he is a mouthy 30-year-old at Manchester City and he is still trying to take on the world – only this time he might just do it.
Roberto Mancini made the radical step last night of changing his prediction for City's season – upgrading them from top four material to Premier League title contenders – and he did so on the back of one of the best performances in recent weeks from Bellamy. Carlos Tevez might have scored two goals but it was Bellamy who gave City their bite.
Perhaps it was the cruel reminder of Muscat's unpleasant challenge on Bellamy that gave him the impetus to stretch Wolves' defence for the first goal, finished by Tevez. But something has raised his game back to the level it was at when he scored twice against Manchester United at Old Trafford on September. He was back to his spiky best.
The strange thing about Bellamy is that for all his moments of madness, like the golf club attack on John Arne Riise when he was at Liverpool, he can also be remarkably cogent. A newspaper interview outlining his reasons for staying at City proved that yesterday and his post-match words struck a nice balance between acknowledging his debt to Mark Hughes and affirming his desire to be part of Mancini's new world.
City were at their best last night when Mancini switched from the 4-3-3 formation he inherited from Hughes to a 4-4-2 with Tevez and Bellamy using their pace to get behind Wolves. Once the home team were a goal down and forced to commit players going forward City looked formidable on the counter-attack and could have scored more than three goals.
Yet even Bellamy admitted that Wolves were not as bad as the 3-0 scoreline suggested. Mick McCarthy was furious about a decision not to penalise Bellamy for taking up an on offside position in the build-up to the second goal, a free-kick struck by Javier Garrido. The Wolves manager only just restrained himself from an attack on Mick Jones. "You saw it, you write it," he said. "I'll look in the morning and see if I concur."
This was City's third consecutive league victory including Hughes' last game against Sunderland and looking at the league table it is not hard to see why Hughes would be frustrated. The nine points have put City right back in the running, they are two points behind Tottenham in fourth and now have a run of league games against teams from the bottom half of the table.
Wolves lost defender Christophe Berra to injury after a nasty fall but not before he had deflected in City's first goal. On 34 minutes, Bellamy got away from Ronald Zubar in a run down the left wing and cut the ball back to Tevez whose shot went in via a deflection off Berra. Bellamy missed a good chance himself from close range in the first half. He did the same shortly after half-time when he was given a run on goal down the left channel and slipped the ball wide of the post. And he looked to be in an offside position when City broke on the way to their second goal. The Wolves fans were incensed that the flag did not go up but given that Bellamy did not touch the ball it looked like the right call.
When the ball broke loose Michael Mancienne was late into the tackle on Gareth Barry and City were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out from the Wolves goal. The unlikely choice to take it was the substitute Garrido who had come on for the injured Stephen Ireland. He struck the free-kick, left of centre, around the near side of the Wolves wall and Marcus Hahnemann scarcely moved as the ball curled inside his post.
Tevez should have scored when Bellamy played him through on 77 minutes. Instead he chipped Hahnemann and missed the goal. He scored his second with a low angled drive past the Wolves goalkeeper. Robinho came on shortly afterwards – "A substitute worth more than our whole club," McCarthy reflected – but City would be hard-pressed to find a man more valuable than Bellamy.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Zubar, Craddock, Berra (Stearman, h-t), Elokobi; Foley (Jarvis, 79), Mancienne, Henry, Surman; Doyle (Ebanks-Blake, 73), Iwelumo. Substitutes not used: Hennessey (gk), Milijas, Castillo, Maierhofer.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Given; Richards, Touré, Kompany, Zabaleta; Ireland (Garrido, 55), De Jong, Barry; Petrov (Robinho, 85), Tevez ( Sylvinho, 90), Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk),Vidal, Boyata, Weiss.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).
Booked: Manchester City Zabaleta, Tevez; Wolverhampton Wanderers Mancienne, Foley
Man of the match: Tevez.
Attendance: 28,957.Reuse content