Premier League - Wolves claim crucial win
Wolves claimed a crucial 3-1 victory over Sunderland as their fight for Premier League survival was given a major boost at the Stadium of Light.
Jody Craddock returned to his old club and put the visitors in front in the 22nd minute with an inspired crisp volley, but Stephane Sessegnon levelled for the Black Cats in the 34th with a similarly emphatic strike.
Both sides were denied definite penalties before Steven Fletcher put Wolves back in front in the 54th minute with a powerful header, and the three points were sealed when George Elokobi dived forward to plant another into the corner of the net and send the travelling fans into delirium.
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce was without an entire starting XI for the clash with a spate of injuries to contend with as Sessegnon led the line for the heavily-depleted Black Cats, while Kevin Doyle was confined to the bench for Wolves as Steven Fletcher and Stephen Ward assumed the two striking berths.
The Black Cats were almost in front as early as the ninth minute as Boudewijn Zenden unleashed a piledriver from range which struck the crossbar with Wayne Hennessey comprehensively beaten in the Wolves goal.
Steed Malbranque then missed a sitter for Sunderland as Ahmed Elmohamady hurtled down the right and cut the ball back from the byline to the onrushing midfielder, who inexplicably missed the ball from just six yards out.
Wolves punished their hosts midway through the first half as Stephen Hunt whipped the ball over to Craddock at the back post, who volleyed in expertly beyond Simon Mignolet into the far corner of the net. It marked the first time the defender had returned to Sunderland since leaving the club.
Jamie O'Hara was denied the opportunity to double his side's lead on the half hour mark as he surged forward before crashing a stunning strike from range which thundered against the crossbar.
Sunderland were then level four minutes later as Zenden whipped over a deep corner which Wolves inexcusably allowed to bounce around in the box, and Sessegnon lashed the ball home in acrobatic fashion at the back post.
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy was apoplectic with rage just before the half-time whistle was blown as Sunderland defender John Mensah handled inside his own box from a Hunt cross, and the visitors were left to vent their fury as referee Mike Jones shook his head.
McCarthy deemed it necessary to inject the pace and guile of Matt Jarvis at the break at the expense of the ineffectual Adlene Guedioura, and a typically frenetic start to the second half ensued.
A golden opportunity fell to Fletcher to restore the visitors' lead just four minutes into the second half as he latched on to an incisive through ball, but his finish was utterly devoid of conviction as he shot tamely straight at Mignolet.
Hennessey then pulled off a stunning save to keep Sunderland at bay in the 53rd minute after Malbranque fired a crisp shot from the edge of the Wolves box which arrowed towards the top corner, but the keeper tipped it over the bar athletically.
Just one minute later, Wolves had crucially restored their lead: Jarvis whipped the ball over from the right flank, and his delivery was clinically converted by Fletcher, who rose above Mensah to head into the net with relish.
It was then Bruce's turn to express his unbridled fury at the referee after Sessegnon, who was poised to pull the trigger inside the Wolves box, was bundled over by Hunt from behind in clumsy fashion. It was surely a penalty, but referee Jones again rejected the appeals.
Bruce threw on young midfielders Craig Lynch and Ryan Noble, and shortly after the changes had been made, Wolves put the game beyond doubt.
Jamie O'Hara floated over a devilish free kick from the left, and Elokobi dived forward to head powerfully beyond Mignolet and secure all three points for McCarthy's side.
The vital victory sees Wolves consolidate their place above the relegation zone and leapfrog Midland rivals Birmingham City into 16th spot but still remain perilously close to the bottom three.