Fletcher brings derby delight to Wolves and puts safety in sight

Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 West Bromwich Albion 1
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The Independent Football

"The Black Country's ours" roared the Wolves crowd as West Bromwich Albion's modern-day ascendancy in the derby was ended in emphatic style, Steven Fletcher scoring twice to lift Mick McCarthy's side out of the relegation zone for the first time in 10 weeks.

Why, the Wolverhampton Wanderers manager was asked, were they so adept at winning the big matches, Albion having joined both Manchester clubs and Chelsea in falling at Molineux? "What's the wing-speed velocity of the American swallow?" McCarthy replied in the enigmatic fashion of Eric Cantona in seagulls-and-trawler mode, having gone from twitchy to twitcher in 90 minutes. "I'm sorry I haven't got an answer. I wish I did. If I had, I wouldn't be sitting here, panting and out of breath like this. I'd be in the top four."

The wing-speed velocity of the bird in question is, of course, seven to nine beats per second, or around 22,500 in the 47 minutes it took for Wolves to build a 3-0 advantage. They had not won in the five meetings since 2007 but exploited flawed Albion defending to take an early grip. Fletcher, the Scottish striker signed for £6.5m from relegated Burnley last summer, struck in either half, bookending a first goal in English football for Algeria's Adlène Guedioura.

Peter Odemwingie reduced the arrears from the penalty spot, becoming the first player to score in five consecutive Premier League matches this season, but although Roy Hodgson's team attacked with a verve that demonstrated why they had lost only once since his appointment as head coach in mid-February, there was no way back.

"It was a pleasing win, definitely, and certainly a timely one," said McCarthy. "But I'm still on 22 May time [the last day of the season] and it's only 8 May as far as I know. I'm proud of the way we played. That's four points from two derbies, against Albion and at Birmingham, when we haven't been playing very well.

McCarthy was entitled to feel vindicated over his team selection. Matt Jarvis, who won his first England cap barely a month earlier, was dropped in favour of Stephen Hunt, relegated with Reading and Hull respectively in his previous two top-flight campaigns. Hunt, a spiky, jinking presence on the left flank, was close behind Fletcher in the man-of-the-match stakes.

Fletcher might not even have started, at least not up front, had Kevin Doyle not been injured playing for the Republic of Ireland. However, the former Hibernian player's tally of 11 goals includes five in the last seven fixtures and prompted McCarthy to insist he was "my first choice" during the close season. "I had him signed before I went on holiday. Now he's proving to be exactly what I thought he was."

Hodgson was left to rue a recurrence of Albion's fallibility against set pieces. The 29 goals they have conceded from free-kicks, corners and penalties is the highest total in the division. Their cause was not helped, argued the head coach, by the absence of three of his strongest players in the air, Paul Scharner, Steven Reid and Chris Brunt. "If you concede two goals from corners, and a third from an unfortunate error [by Abdoulaye Meite], you give yourselves a mountain to climb," Hodgson said. "We showed great fighting spirit but it was from a 0-3 position. Fair play to Wolves – they got a nice lead and held on to it."

Fletcher nudged Wolves ahead after Guedioura chested down a corner by Jamie O'Hara, and Fletcher returned the compliment by heading another O'Hara flag-kick into Guedioura's path. When Meite allowed Kevin Foley's pass to roll under his boot, Fletcher raced clear to sidefoot calmly past the onrushing Scott Carson.

Odemwingie's spot-kick, after Guedioura's clumsy challenge on Jerome Thomas, sparked an Albion rally. Simon Cox forced a flying save from Wayne Hennessey, Thomas shook the bar and Somen Tchoyi's header flashed past the post. Wolves prevailed, and while McCarthy knows one American swallow does not make a summer, victory at Sunderland or at home to Blackburn on the final day could make them safe.



Substitutes: Wolves Jarvis (Guedioura, 74), Stearman (O'Hara, 80), Ebanks-Blake (Fletcher, 84). WBA Fortune 5 (Jara, 68), Miller (Cox, 78), Vela (Thomas, 83).

Booked: Wolves Guedioura, Craddock, Henry. WBA Mulumbu.

Man of the match Fletcher. Match rating 8/10.

Possession: Wolves 52% WBA 48%.

Attempts on target: Wolves 10 WBA 6.

Referee M Dean (The Wirral).

Attendance 28,510.

Race to avoid the drop: remaining fixtures

* Saturday

Blackburn v Manchester United, Blackpool v Bolton, Sunderland v Wolves

* Sunday

Birmingham v Fulham, Wigan v West Ham

* Sunday 22 May

Manchester United v Blackpool, Stoke v Wigan, Tottenham v Birmingham, West Ham v Sunderland, Wolves v Blackburn

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