Colchester United 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
The battle for the play-offs may be as congested as the roads on which Wolverhampton Wanderers have travelled for four consecutive away games. But Mick McCarthy's men have driven themselves back into the thick of it.
Granted, the run of away days included the FA Cup debacle at Cardiff, after which fans vented their spleen. The other three trips have produced three clean sheets and seven vital points to send Wolves into tomorrow's return home game against Southampton within striking distance of the top six.
Yet this resurgence is not the result of Wolves suddenly clicking into gear, knocking the ball around with abandon and steamrollering any opposition. It's more a case of battening down the hatches, once more making themselves hard to beat and displaying the sort of steely resolve which remains essential in this most competitive of leagues.
As at Crystal Palace the previous week, Wolves looked a far more solid and sturdy proposition amid the tight and problematic idiosyncrasies of the soon-to-be-demolished Layer Road. A bobbly playing surface and swirling wind rendered decent, flowing football virtually impossible and nowhere was that more evident than in the game's defining moment.
Stephen Elliott produced a neat bit of defensive work in his right midfield position before launching an aerial through-ball in the general direction of Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. With Wolves battling the elements, the punt held up sufficiently in the wind to allow Ebanks-Blake to out-muscle Adam Virgo before calmly beating Dean Gerken.
It was an example of power and precision which was, perhaps, out of keeping with much of the afternoon's fare but one which added fuel to the fire of Wolves' rediscovered durability and gave them something on which to cling.
That they ultimately did prevail was not only down to some unstinting defending but, not for the first or last time this season, some impressive goalkeeping.
Wayne Hennessey made three notable saves, from an early Kevin McLeod overhead kick, a one-on-one from Kevin Lisbie and then a low second-half shot from Johnnie Jackson. He also came for crosses with refreshing regularity, adding confidence to a defence reshuffled following the first-half ankle injury sustained by Jody Craddock.
Going forward, Wolves sparkled in patches, Ebanks-Blake once again ploughing a lone furrow at the head of a 4-5-1 formation but ably supported by Dave Edwards down the middle and Elliott on the right.
George Elokobi was denied a dream return to his former club by a second half goal-line clearance and Kevin Kyle was inches wide after a lively late cameo but it was Wolves who were glad of the final whistle as Izale McLeod failed to finish off an injury-time corner.
"It was a lively pitch and a tough match but we knew it would be," reflected McCarthy. "It's an important three points because the games are ebbing away. I've had a good response from everyone since the Cardiff match and we've had two really good results. We've changed things around and a few people have had their noses put out of joint, but it's up to them now to get back in."
Wolves may now be just two points off sixth-placed Ipswich with a game in hand but McCarthy, full of praise for Ebanks-Blake's clinical goal, is far from getting carried away.
"Of course, we're trying to get in the play-offs but I'm not looking too closely at it at the moment," he explained. "I've not looked at it now for about three weeks. It's where we are at the finish that counts."
Scorer: Ebanks-Blake (30).
COLCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): Gerken; Ifil, Coyne, Virgo, Jackson; Duguid (I McLeod, 39), Izzet (Bonagh, 69), Watson, K McLeod (Hammond, 69); Platt, Lisbie. Subs: Bankole (gk), Vernon.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-4-1-1): Hennessey; Collins, Breen, Craddock (Foley, 34), Elokobi; Elliott, Henry, Potter, Gray (Gibson, 77); D Edwards; Ebanks-Blake (Kyle, 77). Subs: Stack (gk), Eastwood.
Referee: Ian Williamson (Berkshire).
Bookings: Colchester - Virgo (foul); Wolves - Gray (foul). Attendance: 5,989.