Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Coventry City 0
By Ged Scott
Coventry City manager Micky Adams left Molineux fuming last night after blaming referee Lee Mason for his side's first defeat in six meetings with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The seething Sky Blues boss claimed Chris Birchall was fouled as Wolves striker Jemal Johnson began a bustling run from the halfway line at the start of the move which led to Elliott Ward putting through his own net for the game's only goal.
"It was a foul," insisted Adams. "The whole ground could see that. The ref's had a decent game but he's missed one key decision."
Even ever-honest Wolves boss Mick McCarthy thought Johnson had got away with it.
"I thought at the time the ref might blow," said McCarthy. "But, after the way the luck went against us at Cardiff, I said it might even itself out over the course of a season and fortune favoured us tonight."
To add to Adams' woes, a hamstring injury to full-back David McNamee is serious enough to leave the manager, already on the brink of bringing back Richard Duffy on another loan from Portsmouth, now needing to enter the market again.
But the main talking point of this hard-fought derby was the goal.
In fairness to Johnson, it was his sheer hunger for the ball that maybe swayed the referee. He's no six footer, don't forget, standing just 5ft 6in six in his socks, and is renowned more for his pace and trickery than physical threat. But it was the way he used the ball once he had shrugged his way clear that counted.
Having played the ball wide, Rohan Ricketts squared into the area to pick out Seyi Olofinjana, who attempted to turn quickly. But, having made a mess of it, Wolves' luck was in again.
Olofinjana's attempted shot was going wide but propelled forward with sufficient momentum that, when it ran into the path of the hapless Ward, the ham-footed Coventry defender drilled the ball past his own keeper with unwitting venom.
It was rough luck on Coventry, who had looked the better side, especially before the break.
Either side of that Ward own goal, substitute Jay Tabb - on for McNamee - had decent openings, both of which flew just wide. And, when Tabb was not picked up for a third time, his low cross caused confusion.
Sky Blues skipper Stephen Hughes also sparked panic attacks with an angled low shot which almost caught Matt Murray by surprise at his near post. And a jinking run from returning former Molineux favourite Colin Cameron set up Birchall on the right, only for his cross to be deflected wide.
It was a different story after the break as Wolves finally started to look a bit more menacing. Johnson - without a goal in almost two months - curled just over. And, frustratingly, when the chances started to come
against a stretched Coventry side now chasing the game, it was after McCarthy had made the decision to remove his first choice front pair.
Leon Clarke had two good chances, the second of them a bad miss from a free header. Then Craig Davies failed to cash in on two clean breaks.
After making a mess with his own effort, he again proved a wastrel when he raced clear down the right with Clarke free in the middle.
Clarke then headed straight at Coventry's other Molineux old boy, keeper Andy Marshall. And that gave hope to the visitors that they could still get something from the evening.
In the space of five minutes, Hughes was denied by Murray, Clinton McKenzie ballooned over and Gary Breen - one of Wolves' three Coventry old boys - nearly stuck it past his own keeper after great work down the left by Dele Adebola.
There was added tension for the home fans when five minutes of stoppage time was curiously tagged on by Mr Mason - a decision which can only have been because he was enjoying himself so much he simply didn't want it to end. But finally that whistle blew - and Wolves can concentrate on The Hawthorns on Sunday, kick off High Noon, third against fourth ... Game On!