Southend United 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
In recent times, Wolverhampton Wanderers have displayed an annoying sense of generosity when facing strugglers.
Teams on lengthy winless runs have often found Wolves more than charitable in rolling into town and being kind enough to produce a level of performance to ensure that such miserable sequences came to an end.
Little wonder, then, that there was plenty of trepidation among the Molineux faithful as they headed down to the seaside to face a Southend side without a win in the Championship for some 16 games.
Ultimately, such fears proved unfounded. Wolves displayed enough mental fortitude and flashes of quality to rise above a largely uneventful contest, prolong Southend’s agony and, in turn, register a first success on their travels since the dramatic smash-and-grab at Leeds United in early September. Captain Jody Craddock hit the 61st-minute winner.
In retrospect, this was probably a classic grafting away performance — keep things solid and far from spectacular in the first half, increase the tempo in the second and, once in front, play things out in relative comfort.
It was a painfully dour first period. A half-volley over the bar from Southend’s chief threat, Freddy Eastwood, then a cross-shot from Jemal Johnson shortly after he had just failed to get on the end of Michael McIndoe’s centre were pretty much all there was to warm the crowd.
Sensing that they weren’t going to be unduly threatened by an off-colour Eastwood, Wolves went for the kill immediately after the interval, sparked mainly by debutant McIndoe and the recalled Jay Bothroyd, clearly buoyed not only by some stinging pre-match words from manager Mick McCarthy but presumably another dose during the half-time interval.
A drilled long-range shot by Bothroyd had Darryl Flahavan tipping it around the post, then the striker burst along the right and crossed for McIndoe to divert against the woodwork.
It was, therefore, something of a surprise that when the 61st-minute breakthrough arrived, it was nothing to do with the resurgent Bothroyd but everything to do with the courage of Craddock.
McIndoe’s excellent inswinging free-kick was just begging to be despatched but in doing so Craddock, who claimed his third goal in six games, wasn’t bargaining fora clash of heads with Efe Sodje.
Craddock was more compos mentis by the time he departed and sitting up on the stretcher sporting a sizeable gash above his eye (above), the sort of war wound which probably afflicted his manager a fair few times during acts of similar bravery as a player.
"When you get a delivery into the box, you’re just looking for someone to be brave and we’ve got a centre-half who wants to go in there and head it," McCarthy said. "Would I have scored a goal like that? I don’t think so. Bearing in mind I scored only 12 goals in about 500 games, I think all my brave headers came at the other end of the pitch! I never really had that happy knack of being in the right place at the right time, but I'd have been proud of that goal today.
"You always know what you’re going to get with Jody, nothing less then 100 per cent commitment and effort."
Craddock’s replacement, Rob Edwards, mopped up the odd half-chance Wolves mustered thereafter, leaving the squad in positive mood.
McCarthy said: "I told the players this was a crucial game because, while three points takes us in the direction we want to go, defeat would have left us with a problem."
SOUTHEND UNITED (4-4-2): Flahavan; Francis, Sodje, Prior, Hammell; Campbell-Ryce, Hunt, McCormack, Gower (Cole 76); Eastwood (Hooper 75), Bradbury (Harrold 85). Substitutes: Welch (gk), P Clarke.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-4-2): Murray; Little, Breen, Craddock (Edwards 64), Clapham; Kightly, Henry, Olofinjana, McIndoe; Johnson (Craig Davies 86), Bothroyd (L Clarke 73). Substitutes: Oakes (gk), Potter.
Bookings: McCormack (foul) – Southend. Henry (foul) – Wolves.
Referee: Paul Armstrong (Berkshire).
Attendance: 9, 411.