Wolves gear up for promotion charge

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 West Bromwich Albion 0
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The Independent Online
Derby matches are not supposed to be as one-sided as yesterday's battle of the Black Country at Molineux. Wolves won with an ease that ought to embarrass Albion, seizing fourth place in the First Division by virtue of only their fifth home win.

The points were effectively wrapped up before half-time, by when Wolves led through headers by Dean Richards and Iwan Roberts. Even a doubling of Albion's resolve thereafter could not force a save out of Mike Stowell in the home goal.

Tribal considerations apart, Wolves needed a victory to launch them into a period that could make the difference between automatic promotion, the purgatory of the play-offs or another year of under-achievement. On the next two Saturdays they pit their fine away record against the leaders, Bolton, and Sheffield United, who are third. Six-pointers against Crystal Palace, Stoke and Barnsley follow before the end of February.

A daunting sequence, though one Mark McGhee can approach with renewed heart now that he has virtually a full-strength squad. Keith Curle, a pounds 650,000 capture from Manchester City last summer, made an assured first starting appearance. The former England defender struck up an instant rapport with Richards, who had himself missed the previous eight games.

Steve Froggatt, absent since October, also made an influential comeback, as did Roberts in his first full outing since before Christmas. Albion will be glad they have probably seen the last for this season of the Welsh international, who also helped himself to a hat-trick in Wolves' 4-2 success at the Hawthorns in September.

On that occasion two of their goals had exploited Albion's weakness in the air at set-pieces. Less than three minutes had elapsed before history was repeated. After a short-corner routine involving Froggatt and Simon Osborn, the former swung his cross in to the near post where Richards headed his first goal of the season.

Albion's centre-backs, as statueseque as the impressive monument to Billy Wright outside the stadium, looked on as first Froggatt, with a twisting header, and then Richards, firing wide after surging onto Jamie Smith's throw-in, threatened to put the game beyond reach. Just as their grip was starting to slacken, Wolves struck again. Steve Bull dispossessed Ian Hamilton and fed Neil Emblen, one of a powerhouse trio at the heart of Wolves' midfield, who in turn found Smith charging up on the overlap. The full-back's first-time centre, hit with pace and curled away from Paul Crichton in goal, deserved the textbook finish which Roberts duly supplied.

Albion, switching to 4-4-2, had more of the ball in the second half, but it was bloodless stuff. As Alan Buckley, the Albion manager, said dolefully: "One of these days we'll come here and give Wolves a game instead of giving them the game."

Goals: Richards (3) 1-0; Roberts (37) 2-0.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Stowell; Smith, Richards, Curle, Venus; Emblen, Osborn, Thomas, Froggatt (Thompson, 88); Roberts, Bull. Substitutes not used: Ferguson, Goodman.

West Bromwich Albion (5-3-2): Crichton; Holmes, Murphy, Burgess, Raven (Gilbert, h/t), Agnew; Hamilton, Sneekes, Groves; Hunt, Peschisolido (Taylor, h/t). Substitute not used:

Butler.

Referee: E Wolstenholme (Blackburn).

Booking: Albion: Peschisolido.

Man of the match: Emblen. Attendance: 27,336.

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