Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 // Blackburn Rovers 3
WOLVERHAMPTON // On a mad and manic "Survival Sunday" at Molineux yesterday, Wolverhampton Wanderers and their fans endured the most unimaginable emotional highs and lows until, with just four minutes left, a goal from Stephen Hunt secured their place in the Premier League for another season.
It could still have all gone horribly wrong, such was the ever-changing conundrum at the bottom of the table, but it proved enough.
They held on against Blackburn Rovers - comically, with Rovers already safe after taking a 3-0 first-half lead, neither side wanted the ball in stoppage time - and will contest a third successive campaign in the top flight.
Twice during a frenetic match, Wolves lay in the bottom three. Gone, relegated, a £40 million (Dh240m) defeat staring them in the face. But they kept going, just, and Roman Pavlyuchenko's winner for Tottenham Hotspur in their 2-1 victory over Birmingham City confirmed their escape. Instead, Birmingham took the plunge.
At times, Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, looked like he would explode. "It was never in doubt," he said, tongue firmly in cheek. "I'm thrilled, proud, everything. My emotions have really gone through the wringer. I said all along that this would go down to May 22 and I was right.
"For five teams to be involved on the last day was outrageous. We were in the Premier League, out of it, staying up again, not staying up. People kept giving me bits of paper telling me what was happening elsewhere. 'Happy days' then 'You're down'. And then with good old Hunty getting that goal."
McCarthy even took time to give the nod to Steve Kean, the Blackburn manager, that both sides appeared safe and should simply see out the game. "Mick gave me the look and told me that we were both OK now," Kean said. "We also had a guy on our bench with a laptop giving us an update every five minutes, just in case."
Wolves' ineptitude had been astonishing in the first half.
Their mood was not helped by the fear emanating from the home fans, who urged the team forward frantically whenever they had possession and bayed at them ferociously whenever they backed off a challenge. Small wonder that, in such a febrile atmosphere, Wolves capitulated.
Jason Roberts started the Blackburn avalanche, guiding home Michel Salgado's long-range shot. At that stage, Wolves were still safe.
Even at 2-0 down, after Brett Emerton's vicious volley had taken a slight deflection off the head of George Elokobi on its way into the net, Wolves seemed secure.
But not after Blackpool had made it 1-1 against Manchester United. Wolves were down on goals scored, and it got worse when Blackburn went 3-0 ahead through Junior Hoillet, whose twisting run ended with a fierce drive past Wayne Hennessey. Mind you, when Tottenham went 1-0 up on Birmingham, Wolves had suddenly regained their senior status.
That appeared to be rubber-stamped when Jamie O'Hara curled in a fine shot from a cleverly rehearsed free kick move with Hunt. Only temporarily, though, with Wigan Athletic going 1-0 up at Stoke City - and Birmingham equalising at White Hart Lane - McCarthy's men were back in the Championship. But the fans in old gold had done their sums.
"We only need one goal," they chanted, and Hunt duly obliged.
"It was the most stressful day of my career," the Irishman said. "At half time, I couldn't look the manager in the eye, but mentally, thankfully, we were so strong."
The manager, too. "After that, Blackburn weren't going to do themselves any damage and nor were we," McCarthy said. "But I think we can be forgiven for doing that." After having survived "Survival Sunday", he could be forgiven anything.