Not for nothing is Mick McCarthy in danger of being labelled English football's new 1-0 king. Of the seven wins that McCarthy has so far clocked up to steer his Wolverhampton Wanderers into the Championship's top four, six have now been by the most slender margin.

Three of them have come courtesy of the sharp finishing skills of Jay Bothroyd, another two from Jemal Johnson during his purple patch when he first arrived in August. And then there was Tuesday night's controversial effort, which went in off visiting defender Elliott Ward, but only after Johnson's jostling earlier in the move had left the Coventry City contingent almost combusting with anger.

Admittedly, McCarthy's six out of seven is still chicken feed compared to Sunday's derby rivals West Bromwich Albion, who clocked up single-goal wins 15 times out of 27 on their way to the first of Gary Megson's promotions five seasons ago — at Wolves' expense.

But, just as Albion argued then, it's not for any lack of attacking enterprise that Wolves have not been winning their games more handsomely. After all, on Tuesday night alone, wasteful substitutes Craig Davies and Leon Clarke had half-a-dozen chances between them to make the scoreline more comfortable as Coventry got caught upfield chasing an equaliser.

But there is clearly one common denominator when it comes to explaining why Wolves have been keeping so many clean sheets (seven now for Matt Murray in 12 league games) . . . their defence.

Murray's form since finally returning from an injury-ravaged three years has already been well chronicled. Not least by his many admirers on the South Bank, with their vocal tribute on Tuesday night of "England's, England's No 1". But, for the former England Under-21 keeper to have performed as well as he has, he has been helped enormously by the two elder statesmen in front of him.

At a time when Wolves' full-back positions have not been settled (thanks to Jackie McNamara's continued injury problems and Lee Naylor's move to Celtic), Wolves' twin centre-halves Gary Breen and Jody Craddock has been as solid as a rock.

Only once have they looked uncomfortable together, when Preston North End won 3-1 at Molineux in the first week of the season. And it is no coincidence that it was only after Breen was wrongly sent off at Cardiff last month that luckless Wolves fell apart.

Despite that 4-0 defeat at Ninian Park, Wolves' defensive record remains better than every team in the division bar the leaders. And that is no surprise to McCarthy, who not only signed Breen for Sunderland and Wolves, but gave him the vast majority of his 63 caps for the Republic of Ireland.

"I knew what I was getting when I brought him here," said McCarthy. "He's a leader and he's continued to perform here at Wolves.

"I started working with Gary in 1996 when I was manager of Ireland. Under me, he got around 50 caps. And the number of appearances he made under me at Sunderland is also testimony to what I feel about Breeny.

"His experience is very important. People with that sort of experience don't always impart knowledge to others but he does. He’s a calming influence. There are times when it threatens to get a bit frenetic and the tackles are flying in, but Breeny has the confidence to get hold of the ball, pass it and ensure we keep possession."

Having preceded McCarthy to Molineux by a day this summer, Breen quit the Ireland squad to concentrate on continuing his club career, linking up in the process with Craddock, his predecessor at Sunderland.

Ahead of what he knows should be a stern test against rampant Albion's in-form front men on Sunday, the Wolves boss is not slow to pinpoint the importance of his twin stoppers.

"Breeny has got an able lieutenant in Jody Craddock," said McCarthy. "He's been brilliant this season and responded to the captaincy superbly. And they make a good partnership."