WOLVERHAMPTON // Lee Bowyer is enjoying something of a renaissance and Birmingham are reaping the rewards. The midfielder scored his second goal in successive games to help settle a tense tussle at neighbours Wolves. Bowyer's performance was a flashback to his days at Leeds when his driving runs and goalscoring knack saw England come calling. He might be 32 now, not 22, and at his sixth club following a troubled past, but his hunger is still evident. So too his quality, as his third-minute winner showed. The Midlands derby had barely warmed up when Chucho Benitez worked the ball back to the edge of the box where Bowyer picked his spot with an effortless 20-yard chip.
"It was an amazing goal from Bow," said the Birmingham manager Alex McLeish, who took him on loan last season before signing him on a free transfer. "He has confounded his critics. "I never had any doubts about him, but other people did. I did some diligence on him. I try to ensure when we bring someone in that he is the right type and he's still got the legs. "One of the things you always fear as players get older is that when the legs go, the legs go. Someone mentioned that to the board, that his legs had gone. Dave [Sullivan] questioned it and I said I'm assured he's all right.
"Thankfully, Dave trusted me. This return of five goals in the Premier League so far is fantastic. It's like the Bowyer of old." Marcus Hahnemann, making his first league start for Wolves, was dumbfounded by that goal, but recovered as Birmingham threatened to end the game by half time. Hahnemann denied Cameron Jerome, Seb Larsson and Bowyer again with shots from distance. This was a meeting between last season's top two in the Championship, but you would have found it difficult to accept Wolves finished ahead of their neighbours.
Where they have perhaps stagnated, Birmingham have adapted much better to the Premier League and his summer purchases are clearly making a huge difference. In Bowyer and Barry Ferguson, Birmingham have wily old campaigners in the middle of the pitch who know what the top-flight is all about. They controlled midfield, dictating their side's attacks and stifling the opposition. Wolves simply did not have the experience or excellence to match them. Aware his team were being outfought and outplayed, Mick McCarthy was bold enough to make early substitutions.
He hauled off Greg Halford for Michael Kightly after just 31 minutes and then replaced Michael Mancienne with Stephen Ward at full-back at the break. But it was to no avail. Kightly lasted until the 67th minute before suffering an ankle injury. Fortune is not favouring McCarthy and with their winless run extended to eight games, their confidence has clearly ebbed away. He said: "I did not turn up expecting us to get beaten and to play as poorly as we did in the first half. We needed a performance and did not get it."
It will take a lot to lift Wolves again, but McCarthy was not given much hope judging by yesterday's display. Dave Edwards headed wide when unmarked and Kevin Doyle lashed a low drive inches past a post. But it took 74 minutes before Joe Hart, whose parents are from Wolverhampton, was tested in the Birmingham goal, springing to his left to push out a 12-yard volley from Ryan Jarvis. At home, that is just not good enough, although Birmingham's defence enhanced their growing reputation.
James McFadden should have reflected the dominance for the visitors in the 71st minute. From a Wolves corner, Jerome broke with pace and released the Scottish international, but Ward got a decisive block to divert his shot wide. Now unbeaten in five games, Birmingham provided a happy second anniversary in charge for McLeish. "I'm sitting in that dugout now, knowing I have got players I can trust here," he added.
Goalscorer Bowyer is enjoying his Indian summer. "Goalscoring and getting up the pitch has never gone from my game," he said. "Leeds was a long time ago, but I am still getting box to box. "I have never doubted it. It is everyone else who has doubted it." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org