Hunger of depleted Wolves satisfied by Hunt

Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Birmingham City 0
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The Independent Football

Stephen Hunt suffered relegation from the Premier League with each of his previous employers. His second goal in Wolves' colours revived the Irish midfielder's prospects of avoiding an unwanted hat-trick, at the same time dragging a lacklustre Birmingham into the relegation dogfight.

Hunt, who might have been viewed as a footballing Jonah after going down with Reading and Hull, rewarded a rousing display from a severely under-strength home side by beating England goalkeeper Ben Foster in the final minute of the first half. Wolves' victory, their first in seven league meetings with neighbouring Birmingham under Mick McCarthy's stewardship, lifted the 19th-placed side to within a point of Fulham and Wigan.

Owner Steve Morgan was so enthused that he went on to the pitch at the end to shake McCarthy's men by the hand. It was just as well his manager did not deploy the quartet of academy products named as substitutes – after injuries deprived him of Kevin Doyle, Matt Jarvis, Jody Craddock, Karl Henry, David Jones, Michael Mancienne, Steven Mouyokolo and Adlene Guedioura – as the chairman probably would not have known their names.

Wolves' win also narrowed the gap on Birmingham to three points and, on this evidence, Alex McLeish's team face a fight to preserve their own top-flight status. Since winning at Portsmouth in March, they have picked up five draws and nine defeats on the road. Another ominous statistic reveals four wins in 27 league games. They were as bloodless in this derby as they were passionate in despatching Aston Villa from the Carling Cup 11 days earlier.

Their inability to put an attempt on target was especially alarming given that, until yesterday, Wolves were the only side in the division without a clean sheet. Birmingham did not create a scoring opportunity until the 80th minute, when Jean Beausejour's cross flashed across the six-yard box too fast for Cameron Jerome to apply a touch. Even Kevin Phillips, so often the scourge of the old gold, sent a free header wide with a minute left.

McCarthy, while praising Foster's heroics, noted that Wayne Hennessey did not make a single save. "There are two ways to look at it if you're me," he said of Wolves' straitened circumstances. "Either you bemoan the injury list or you big up the lads who are playing. We still had a good team out. People ask about morale, and I say 'it's good'. I'm not sure anyone believes me, but performances like that speak volumes for it."

The Wolves manager was lavish in his praise of the tireless Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, who, in tandem with Stephen Ward, a striker who became a left-back but reverted here to his original role, gave Roger Johnson and Scott Dann a difficult afternoon. McLeish acknowledged Wolves' "superiority", admitting to "a poor show" and adding: "We left the tools at home. Somebody delivered them with 30 minutes to go and then we started to play. That was uncharacteristic.

"But you must give Wolves credit. They'd lost a lot of key players. Maybe, psychologically, that put complacency in our heads but I'd told the players they'd have a cause; they're in the bottom three. Every player played out of his skin. Mick got an extra 10 per cent off them all."

One member of Birmingham's previously ever-present back four, left-back Liam Ridgewell, was indisposed with an eye problem, and Wolves clearly targeted understudy David Murphy. Most of the danger Foster repelled so athletically stemmed from that wing, but when Ebanks-Blake turned Dann and crossed low for Hunt to stab home at the near post, justice was done.

Substitutes: Wolves Fletcher (Edwards, 84). Birmingham Beausejour (Zigic, 61), Gardner (Fahey, 61), Phillips (Bowyer, 73).

Booked: Wolves Stearman, Foley.

Birmingham Johnson, Larsson, Jerome, Zigic.

Man of the match Ebanks-Blake.

Match rating 6/10.

Possession Wolves 52% Birmingham 48%.

Shots on target Wolves 8, Birmingham 0.

Referee M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Attendance 25,150.