Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 Stoke City 4
It is not so long ago that Wolverhampton Wanderers were a team which, while struggling for goals at the one end, could rely on their unflinching ability to stop them going in at the other. How quickly the tables can turn.
A decent display going forward against a Stoke City side brimming with confidence saw Wolves produce some purposeful, attacking football as well as two goals to make it a healthy eight plundered in the last four games. Yet at the other end a defence until recently the best in the division creaked with alarming regularity for the second successive weekend with the result that seven goals have been conceded in the last two outings.
Where one problem is solved another one materialises and Mick McCarthy must be tearing his hair out. "We still have the belief we can get in the play-offs but we have to defend a lot better than that," the rueful Wolves manager said.
He wasn't wrong.
Rob Edwards' fourth-minute back-pass was never going to reach Wayne Hennessey and thus Mamady Sidibe was able to round the Wolves keeper and cross for Rory Delap to head into an empty net.
By the time Edwards atoned for his mistake with a first goal in old gold and black just before half-time Wolves, grateful to Leon Cort for heading over with the goal at his mercy, had started to produce spells of sprightly attacking football. So, when Andy Keogh clinically finished off Kevin Kyle's second assist of the game barely a minute after the interval, McCarthy's men must have thought they were heading for victory.
Instead of keeping the back door shut, however, they greedily powered forward in search of more reward. And within two minutes the impressive Michael Gray found himself outnumbered at the back allowing Liam Lawrence, a former McCarthy signing, to comfortably despatch an equaliser.
From there the game could have gone either way but it was Stoke who took control when Hennessey's brilliant touch on to the crossbar from Sidibe's header proved to be of no avail as Cort was quickest to react to the follow-up.
Wolves' miserable afternoon was complete when Rob Edwards was upended in the penalty area by Salif Diao only for referee Andre Marriner, for the second time in the half, to wave away the appeals. Within seconds the ball was down at the other end and substitute Ricardo Fuller had cruelly despatched a fourth leaving McCarthy not only bemoaning the efforts of his defence but also the referee.
"The tackle on Rob was an absolute stonewall penalty, as was the handball when Andy Keogh was flicking the ball over the lad's head," he said. "I've seen them both again on television, that's my opinion and I told the referee so after the game.
"That apart, I thought we played well, particularly so in the first half, and deservedly got ourselves back into the game. But having gone 2-1 up we went a bit gung-ho, were all over the place trying to get the third and ended up getting caught on the break.
"It's a sign of the league that we're still only two points off the play-offs, and from the energy, endeavour and good football I don't doubt that our belief and desire is still there."
Scorers: Delap (4) 0-1; R Edwards (45) 1-1; Keogh (47) 2-1; Lawrence (49) 2-2; Cort (77) 2-3; Fuller (90) 2-4.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-4-2): Hennessey; Foley, D Ward, R Edwards, Gray; Keogh (Eastwood, 81), Henry, D Edwards (Elliott, 90), Jarvis; Ebanks-Blake, Kyle. Subs: Stack (gk), Elokobi, Potter.
STOKE CITY (4-4-2): Simonsen; Zakuani, Cort, Shaw-cross, Pugh; Lawrence (Dickinson, 90), Whelan, Diao, Delap, Gallagher (Fuller, 64), Sidibe. Subs: Hoult (gk), Pericard, Buxton.
Referee: Andre Marriner (Birmingham).
Bookings: Wolves - Henry, R Edwards (fouls), EbanksBlake (dissent) ; Stoke - Whelan (foul).