At 5.56 yesterday evening, there was a glimmer of hope for Wolves. The afternoon had brought defeats for Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan, and when Wolves went in front through Michael Kightly's fortuitous strike midway through the first half, they had a chance of closing the six-point gap separating them from safety.
Instead, for the third game running, Terry Connor's side let a lead slip, Robert Huth and Peter Crouch scoring the goals as Stoke hit back to inflict a sixth successive defeat on the Premier League's bottom club.
With home games against Arsenal and Manchester City sandwiching a trip to Sunderland in the next fortnight, it is difficult to see where Wolves' next point is coming from. Connor has managed just one since Wolves appointed him as Mick McCarthy's successor seven matches ago, though he felt his side deserved better for their efforts yesterday. "We fought every inch, we were up for it, we played the game and got beaten from a dubious free-kick for Peter Crouch's header," he said.
That header came in the 61st minute and it underlined the fine margins at play. In a second half of limited opportunities, Sebastian Bassong had nodded narrowly wide just after the restart from Kightly's delivery, but another free-kick and another header brought the visitors' downfall.
It had seemed for the first half-hour that Lady Luck was smiling on Wolves when referee Mark Halsey ignored Jonathan Walters's shout for a penalty after receiving what looked like a tug from the Wolves captain, Karl Henry, as he threatened to connect with Matthew Etherington's first corner of the evening.
Wolves continued to ride their luck when Walters sent a diving header off-target from inside the six-yard box after Crouch had nodded Marc Wilson's deep cross into his path.
There was also a touch of fortune about their goal, credited to Kightly three minutes later. The winger cut inside and lifted a ball over two defenders to Dave Edwards, breaking into the box. Although the midfielder stretched a leg to connect, TV replays suggested the contact was minimal at best, but still the ball found a way past Asmir Begovic at the near post.
"How shit must you be, we're winning away," chorused the fans from the Black Country with impressive black humour, but not for long. When a Stoke free-kick was only partially cleared, Glenn Whelan headed the ball back into the box, where Ryan Shawcross laid it back for Huth to drive a low volley beyond the Wolves goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey.
Crouch's winner, his 13th goal of the season, was a return to the norm a fortnight after he showed his under-appreciated technical ability with that volleyed goal-of-the-season contender against Manchester City; this one more typical of the big striker as he met Jermaine Pennant's free-kick from the right with a soaring header across Hennessey and into the far corner.
According to Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, the striker is worth a place in England's Euro 2012 squad on his form this season. "If England need a game-changer there is no one better than Peter. Technically he is great but also he's a massive threat for anything going into the box aerially."
The impressive Kightly's trickery nearly conjured an equaliser for Wolves but after evading three Stoke men, his low ball across the six-yard box was nicked off the toes of Matt Jarvis by Ryan Shotton. With that Stoke had their first win in five and they could yet manage a first top-10 finish since 1975; for Wolves the future is less bright.
Stoke (4-4-2): Begovic; Shotton, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Pennant (Palacios, 87), Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington (Jerome, 69); Walters, Crouch (Delap, 90).
Wolves (4-4-2): Hennessey; Zubar, Stearman, Bassong, Ward; Kightly, Henry, Edwards, Jarvis; Ebanks-Blake (Doyle, 83) Fletcher
Referee Mark Halsey.
Man of the match Crouch (Stoke).
Match rating 6/10.
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