West Bromwich Albion 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
Rather like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expected this. It has been nearly 12 years since the Black Country’s bitter rivals fought out a goalless draw and 59 games since the Championship’s most prolific team last failed to trouble the scorers.
To say it took a special performance from Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey is not strictly accurate. The young Welshman was his side’s leading light but yesterday was not his busiest afternoon.
Indeed the 20-year-old was far more prominent in Wales’ hugely creditable 0-0 stalemate with Germany last week than he was at The Hawthorns.
What he was responsible for, however, were the defining incidents of an enthralling derby — both in the second half, when Tony Mowbray’s Albion team will wonder how they didn’t score.
First, soon after the restart, Filipe Teixeira spun Darren Ward on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area and swept a rising drive towards the top right-hand corner.
The celebration was probably forming in his throat as Hennessey flung himself towards the ball and somehow tipped it on to the post.
If that doesn’t win Save of the Season the one that does will have been crafted in heaven and performed by angels.
Then, with only five minutes remaining, Hennessey faced Zoltan Gera from the penalty spot after Neill Collins was adjudged to have fouled Craig Beattie.
The Hungarian’s attempt was not placed directly into the corner but it was extremely well struck yet, having guessed right, Hennessey pulled off a spectacular save.
Those were Albion’s only two shots on target and while the youngster was equal to both he should share some of the limelight with the men who stood in front of him.
Although Albion enjoyed most of the territory in the first half, it was Wolves who actually had the better chances to score.
Seyi Olofinjana had the clearest opportunity when, in the 35th minute, his team burst out of defence through the ever-dangerous Michael Kightly, who skipped round Cesar on the right touchline.
The winger raced away and sent over a perfectly-flighted cross at which the Nigerian flung himself. Olofinjana was not the only one surprised to see his diving header bounce down into the ground and wide.
Albion could not claim they hadn’t already been warned. Kightly was freed as early as the tenth minute when Olofinjana played him in behind Paul Robinson but his slid centre was too far in front of Jay Bothroyd.
Jody Craddock saw his header deflected on to the post and wide midway through the period and quite how, just before the break, Robinson negotiated Darren Ward’s inviting ball over his own crossbar only he knows.
In between Albion picked at the visitors’ defence and manufactured a sequence of promising positions only to lack the finishing touch.
They had sent two decent balls into the Wolves’ area inside the first two minutes, from Chris Brunt and Carl Hoefkens. It was Brunt who was at the heart of Albion’s best opening in the 20th minute. The former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder popped up in the area and pulled back for the on-rushing Teixeira.
The Portuguese scored twice in his last outing but never looked like doing so on this occasion and instead blazed over.
For the most part the hosts’ main attacking hope, Ishmel Miller, struggled to register his muscular presence.
Deployed as a lone striker, though with Gera in a reasonably advanced position, Miller had difficulty escaping the attention of Craddock and Ward and when he did he was unable to knit play together.
Perversely while Mowbray’s men were less fluid in the second period they came closer to scoring when Teixeira’s effort inspired Hennessey into brilliance to deny him a sixth goal of the season.
That is not to say Mick McCarthy’s side were without their own chances. They should have gone ahead with seven minutes to go when Darron Gibson cut back for Olofinjana who was unmarked.
For a second time the midfielder was unable to turn his positive run forward into something more tangible when he side-footed into the side-netting.
A minute later, though, it looked as though the Baggies would take the points. Beattie picked up possession and was moving away from goal when Collins tripped him. Gera, Albion’s fourth-choice penalty-taker, stepped up only to be foiled by Hennessey.
Perhaps more worrying for Mowbray than the loss of two league points was a knee injury picked up by Miller.
The big striker will be out for at least a month and with Kevin Phillips still several weeks away from full fitness we should, perhaps, expect to see Albion involved in a few more goalless games.
Wolves return to Molinuex with a well-earned point, proof of their manager’s belief they are a lot closer to Albion in developmental terms this season than they were last.
The logical conclusion, therefore, is that there will be as little between the teams at the end of the campaign as there was at the end of yesterday’s match. An enticing prospect indeed.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-5-1): Kiely; Hoefkens, Barnett, Cesar, Robinson; Gera, Greening, Teixeira (MacDonald, 77), Koren, Brunt (Beattie, 68); Miller (Bednar, 82). Subs: Steele, Pele.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-5-1): Hennessey; Foley, Ward, Craddock, Collins; Kightly (Eastwood, 61), Henry, Gibson, Olofinjana, Ward; Bothroyd (Elliott, 63). Subs: Potter, Stack, Gray.
Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside).
Booking: Albion — Teixeira (foul).
Albion man of the match: Paul Robinson — crucial interventions in defence, supplied a sequence of good crosses and might even have scored with either of his two attacking headers.
Wolves man of the match: Wayne Hennessey — hardly the busiest afternoon of his career but came to the fore when it mattered most.