It is always difficult to tell what sort of mood Mick McCarthy is in, such is his all-year-round gruff manner, but the beleaguered Wolverhampton Wanderers manager at least wore the hint of smile – just – after his side had ended a run of four successive defeats.
McCarthy had had to endure a fraught week, with injuries continuing to ravage his squad and the "Numpties" – his words – again calling for his head on radio call-ins and internet forums. And at 2-1 down Wolves were heading for the bottom of the table. How the Numpties would have had a field day.
But Wolves turned up the heat in the refridgerator that was Molineux, exactly when it was needed, with late goals from Stephen Hunt, his first for the club, and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake securing only their third league win of the season. Hunt and Ebanks-Blake proved to be inspired substitutions.
"Great manager, eh?" McCarthy joked. "If the substitutions hadn't worked, I'd have been the Numpty. It was a real conflict of emotions, though. They were up and down like a fiddler's elbow. The fans here, those out there, not the Numpties, were absolutely brilliant for us. At 2-1 down, they could have had a right old go."
On the first-half evidence, Wolves were barely worth a win. But at least they avoided conceding a goal in the opening three minutes for a fourth consecutive match. They were thankful, too, when a fierce Kieran Richardson free-kick struck a post, and extremely grateful when Kevin Foley put them ahead after a Matt Jarvis shot had been parried by Craig Gordon.
At last, Sunderland awoke. "That kicked us into life," Steve Bruce, their manager, observed. Darren Bent rattled in his seventh league goal of the season and Danny Welbeck nodded in a Phil Bardsley cross. Their impressive unbeaten run, including the stunning 3-0 victory away to Chelsea, was about to be extended to five matches.
Not so. The Sunderland defence imploded, unable to cope without Michael Turner and Titus Bramble, their injured centre-backs. "If we defend like that, then it's going to be a tough winter for us again," Bruce said. "Individual mistakes cost us the game. We were nowhere near the standard we require."
Hunt scampered on in his own inimitable crabby style to tuck in the leveller from close range, after Gordon had parried George Elokobi's header, and then Ebanks-Blake applied the gloss finish to another swift Wolves counterattack.
McCarthy: grumpy waster or tactical genius? Perhaps the phone-in freaks and internet geeks will have been humbly eating their words last night.
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICT TIM SPIERS, Observer reader With 10 minutes to go we were staring at another defeat, but the character, team spirit and determination McCarthy has instilled into the team pulled us through. We've been playing well recently, but have been unlucky and I really hope this win will be the springboard to propel us up the league. Our next four games are all winnable, so it's essential that we replicate all the qualities that were shown in this game over the coming weeks. It was a fantastic finish from Ebanks-Blake, and a smart move to bring Hunt on from the bench. Mancienne played well acting as cover for Henry.
The fan's player ratings Hennessey 7; Zubar 9, Stearman 5, Elokobi 8, Ward 7; Mancienne 7 (Ebanks-Blake 80 7); Foley 7, Milijas 8, Jones 6 (Hunt 63 7), Jarvis 8; Doyle 7
PETE SIXSMITH, SalutSunderland.com With 15 minutes to go we were 2-1 up and looked very comfortable. Two good goals from Bent and Wellbeck meant Wolves were all over the place, and I could only see us winning the game. But we went to sleep and gave them the space to score two late goals and take the points. The first half was dyer but it improved after the introduction of Gyan who gave us a lot more fizz up front, and once we scored it didn't look they were get themselves back in the game. However we imploded once Mensah had left the pitch We must play better than this to stay in the top eight.
The fan's player ratings Gordon 7; Onuoha 7, Mensah 7 (Elmohamady 82 n/a), Ferdinand 8, Bardsley 8; Zenden 6 (Gyan 56 6), Henderson 6 (Malbranque 56 6), Cattermole 7, Richardson 4; Bent 6, Welbeck 7
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