In their first confrontation since the rift of the gab in Japan before the 2002 World Cup, Mick McCarthy was denied the sweetest of Championship victories over Roy Keane and his former employers last night when a late strike by Sunderland's Stephen Elliott cancelled out Jemal Johnson's stunner for Wolves.
Elliott's fifth goal of the season was harsh on Wolves and their manager. Sunderland scarcely troubled Matt Murray before they scored, whereas Darren Ward had capped a display of agile defiance by thwarting Leon Clarke when Mark Little's cross gave the substitute an open goal in the 75th minute.
At the end, the ball happened to fall to McCarthy, who hoofed it away with an air of exasperation. Later, the Wolves manager played down the antipathy between himself and Keane, saying: "We've drawn a line under it in a very public and visible way," before going on to mock what he saw as the media's desire for "a scrap, with myself and Roy having a ruck".
Keane, too, played down the mutual hostility, which dates back to his sulphuric put-down of McCarthy at training camp in Saipan when they were captain and manager respectively of the Republic of Ireland. "It's all history," the Sunderland manager said. "You guys (the press) are making it a bigger issue than it is. It's all quite boring now."
The attempts of both men to put the focus on football had not discouraged a phalanx of photographers from gathering around the dug-outs. Before kick-off, McCarthy made a point of strolling across to Sunderland's technical area to shake hands, perhaps hoping Keane would meet him halfway. The former Manchester United man stood, impassive, before reciprocating the gesture, but he never did do things by halves.
After it was all over, they not only shook hands again but attempted an awkward half-embrace. Perhaps in the spirit of rapprochement, each seemed determined to give the other credit. McCarthy spoke of the "astute signings" his old club had made, while Keane described his keeper, Ward, as Sunderland's man of the match, admitting that it said a lot about the match.
Sunderland were almost gifted a seventh-minute lead after Jamie Clapham's clearance hit Liam Miller and fell to Grant Leadbitter, forcing Murray into a point-blank save.
Wolves created a clutch of opportunities around the half-hour mark. Jody Craddock, a former Sunderland player, met Lewis Gobern's 27th-minute free-kick with a header which Ward saved brilliantly. Craddock soon came even closer, his volley being parried on to a post by Ward before bouncing across goal. With Wolves claiming the ball was over the line, Dean Whitehead cleared, but the home side were not to be denied. In the 43rd minute, Jay Bothroyd's header found Johnson, who unleashed a 25-yard thunderbolt that found the top corner, the former Blackburn striker's first goal in 12 appearances.
On the hour, Bothroyd demonstrated a similarly ferocity. Seyi Olofinjana threaded a neat pass into his stride, prompting the former Charlton player to bludgeon an 18-yard shot that allowed Ward to add to his catalogue of saves.
Keane later introduced Graham Kavanagh, a formidable competitor well known to McCarthy from the Republic. Sunderland at last pressed with conviction, although Elliott's hooked shot needed a deflection off Little to squeeze past Murray.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Murray; Little, Craddock, Breen, Clapham; Gobern, Henry, Olofinjana, Jones; Bothroyd (Clarke, 64), Johnson (Davies, 84). Substitutes not used: Ikeme (gk), N Collins, Potter.
Sunderland (4-5-1): Ward; Whitehead, Varga, D Collins, Nyatanga; Elliott, L Miller (Kavanagh, 64), Yorke (Hysen, h-t), Leadbitter, Wallace (Nosworthy, 76); Connolly. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Caldwell.
Referee: M Pike (Cumbria).
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