If Kevin Phillips does not bear a grudge against Mick McCarthy, he gives a passable impression of a man who does. Five months before his 37th birthday, the striker stepped from the bench to deliver two typical finishes in the final 11 minutes as Birmingham City snatched a victory from nowhere and pinned Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League's bottom three.
"They are the hallmarks of a genius," said the victorious manager, Alex McLeish. "Kevin might go bald and lose his teeth but he will never lose that technique and touch. I wish he would tell me the secret – then I could pass it on to my other strikers."
Such is McLeish's high regard that he turned down transfer-window enquiries from the Championship's upper reaches while the player was unable to break into a side now unchanged in 12 League matches. "It has been difficult to walk past him in the corridor and tell him to keep his chin up but he might figure more in the second half of the season," he added.
For an utterly distraught McCarthy, it was a familiar feeling. Phillips, whom he sold from Sunderland to Southampton in August 2003, struck three goals when West Bromwich Albion overcame Wolves in the play-off semi-finals in 2007 and scored against them in the same season's FA Cup.
"I haven't known our dressing room that disappointed," McCarthy said. "Kevin's a good player, a good scorer, but I'm not here to blow smoke up his arse." You suspect the manager's celebrations at turning 51 were a tad muted last night; a birthday ruined good and proper by the antics of a Kevin.
Wolves, defending admirably to repel Birmingham's outstanding start, were alarm-free for long spells of a spiky derby and stood in sight of their first ever West Midlands derby victory in the Premier League after Kevin Doyle's sixth goal of the season.
He reacted sharply to touch in following a low Matt Jarvis cross that was deflected against the foot of the near post by Roger Johnson three minutes before half-time.
Bizarrely, Wolves had, at that point, scored more away League goals (11) than Birmingham had mustered at home but much rests on the shoulders of their £6.5m record signing. Too many of Doyle's team-mates, competent and industrious though they are, exude little belief that they can score at this level. Kevin Foley and Jarvis finished particularly tamely and Ronald Zubar headed a Jarvis free-kick over from three yards.
Adlène Guedioura was more convincing with a shot that scorched too high but Wolves rarely examined Joe Hart's international credentials on the day the life of another England keeper, the all-time St Andrew's record appearance maker, Gil Merrick, was honoured.
Birmingham, restricted after their opening surge to an off-target Johnson shot and a well-saved Cameron Jerome effort, introduced Phillips for the injured Christian Benitez just past the hour and levelled when Keith Fahey's chip was headed back by another substitute, Craig Gardner, for Phillips to hook in.
With five minutes remaining, Stephen Carr made a long right-wing run and saw his centre chested down and dispatched right-footed on the volley into the bottom corner. Wolves, so resilient for so long, were left asking why they had left such a predator in such space eight yards out.
It is easy to fear for them now. They are now without a win over Birmingham in nine League matches since 2001 and Phillips said: "They must be sick of the sight of me but I've proved there's still something in the tank."
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart; Carr, R Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson (Gardner, 67), Ferguson, Bowyer, McFadden (Fahey, 74); Jerome, Benitez (Phillips, 62). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Michel, Jervis, Vignal.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-5-1): Hahnemann; Zubar, Craddock, Berra, Ward; Foley (Ebanks-Blake, 89), Mancienne, Henry, Jones (Guedioura, 67), Jarvis (Surman, 89); Doyle. Substitutes not used: Hennessey (gk), Elokobi, Vokes, Bia.
Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).
Booked: Birmingham Hart, Johnson, Dann, Ferguson, Bowyer; Wolverhampton Mancienne, Jones, Henry, Berra.
Man of the match: Phillips.
Attendance: 24,165.Reuse content