BIRMINGHAM CITY 2 WOLVES 0
Birmingham prised open the Coca-Cola Championship title race with a thrilling 2-0 win over rivals and near neighbours Wolverhampton Wanderers but the game was marred by an horrendous challenge on Wolves’ striker Chris Iwelumo whose loss will be far more keenly felt than this result.
Goals from Cameron Jerome and substitute Garry O’Connor were in the end the Wolves' undoing but it was the tackle on Iwelumo by Blues’skipper Lee Carsley for which the former Everton man saw red which was really the turning point.
Up until that incident in the 37th minute Wolves had looked as though they might be the ones with all the aces in the pack as Iwelumo threatened time and again with a new strike partner alongside him.
With his usual partner Sylvan Ebanks-Blake out with a hamstring problem, Iwelumo was paired with Mick McCarthy’s recent addition Marlon Harewood - the Villa loan-star looking to earn instant recognition from the Wolves’ faithful and perhaps the backing of Villa fans to boot.
The tackle however and subsequent loss of Iwelumo and Carsley proved pivotal however and gave Alex McLeish’s side not only the opportunity to pull the leaders back to within two points but Birmingham have now opened up an impressive six-point gap on fellow promotion contenders Reading and Sheffield United.
McCarthy meanwhile now has to contend with a growing list of crocked players having already lost winger Michael Kightly for the rest of the season and with Ebanks-Blake suffering his hamstring problem on his way back from a calf injury.
Until the sending off, Wolves had looked worth at least a point with centre-backs Jody Craddock and Christophe Berra equal to everything Cameron Jerome and Kevin Phillips had to throw at them.
It looked for all the world as though the first goal would come from a set piece as first Dave Jones earned a crack at the Blues net only to see Maik Taylor equal to the task and then Wayne Hennessey was denying Seb Larsson at the other end.
Jerome then went on a solo run which brought panic in the Wolves ranks but with just the keeper to beat somehow saw Hennessey get down behind the ball - the resulting rebound flying wide.
Iwelumo might have opened Wolves’ account in the 24th minute only to be denied by Taylor before the night’s crucial incident.
Iwelumo had dealt with the ball when Carsley flew in his foot up smashing into the giant Scotsman’s standing leg.
As Iwelumo was stretchered off, referee Mark Halsey reached into his pocket to send the Blues skipper from the field.
As Wolves regrouped the assistant linesman signalled four minutes of additional time at the end of the half and it was then Blues struck with Jerome able to get the decisive touch in a scramble in the Wolves goalmouth.
The second half saw Kevin Phillips replaced by James McFadden while Matt Jarvis, himself back from knee injury, came in for Matt Hill to take up right wing position while Stephen Ward switched to left back.
Jerome was then replaced by Garry O’Connor in what proved to be a sublime substtitution by McLeish.
As Wolves readjusted to accommodate their own “Super Sub” in Sam Vokes, first Lee Bowyer looked to have the game sewn up only to be denied by a fantastic Hennessey save but then the Birmingham sub was ensuring his side won the spoils.
O’Connor’s 69th minute strike was nothing short of humiliation for the visitors when Christophe Berra tried to clear a Murphy long ball.
As Berra tried to head the ball to safety there was O’Connor who beat Wayne Hennessey and, with the keeper committed, somehow the striker managed to swerve the ball around the Welsh International to slam it home.
Berra tried to get bac but but was unable to prevent himself from following the ball into the net.
Matt Jarvis now desperately tried to pull the league leaders back into the game and set up Andy Keogh for an opportunity but the Irish international let the ball overrun and Wolves’ only real chance of the half went begging.
Wolves managed a late surge when Keogh backheeled the ball to Sam Vokes whose inch perfect cross found the advancing Jarvis but the winger could not quite divert the ball with his head past the outstretched arms of Maik Taylor.
Jarvis continued to try and put Wolves back in the game with a stinging right-footed shot minutes from time but luck and the clock ran out leaving the jubilant Blues fans in the Kop to trigger a huge conga along the concourses.
The three points and the bragging points were secure.