Ahead of Saturday’s Championship clash between Wolves and Birmingham City, columnist Graham Large remembers one of the most dramatic games ever played at Molineux.
Whilst it is less than prominent than other West Midlands derbies, matches between Wolves and Birmingham City are usually intense, passionate and hotly contested affairs.
The rivalry has intensified in recent years with both clubs frequently finding themselves in the same division, either fighting for promotion or against relegation.
Although Wolves and Blues have crossed swords on 130 occasions, it’s safe to say that none have generated the same level of excitement as one magical day at Molineux on March 23, 1996.
The build-up to the game had been dominated by a slanging match between managers Mark McGhee and Barry Fry, which set the tone for a fiery encounter.
Against the run of play, it was the visitors that took the lead after just six minutes.
Vinny Samways threaded a perfect ball through to Jonathan Hunt who crossed to Kevin Francis who laid it off for Paul Devlin to fire home from eight yards.
An immediately positive response came from Wolves when Don Goodman fired a shot over the bar after good work from Steve Corcia, before a 20-yard effort from Steve Bull bounced back off the inside of the post.
Hunt replied with a 25-yard drive that was just over as Birmingham edged their way back into the game. But McGhee’s men rallied and drew level five minutes before the interval.
Goodman collected a pass from Corica and drilled an angled shot past Blues keeper Bart Griemink and in off the post.
The second half continued in the same fashion as the first with both sides having chances to add to their tally.
Birmingham should have retaken the lead when an unmarked Francis blasted over from eight yards out. Moments later, it was Wolves’ turn to squander a good opportunity when defender Jamie Smith volleyed against the post from inside the box.
Just as the game looked to be heading for a draw, it erupted in controversy when the referee awarded Birmingham a dubious penalty six minutes from time.
Wolves failed to clear Andy Legg’s cross and from the resultant scramble the ball fell to Francis. The giant striker lined up a shot but missed the ball completely but, to the amazement of everyone, referee John Kirkby thought that he had been fouled by Andy Thompson and pointed to the spot.
The Molineux crowd was incensed, but Devlin kept his cool and converted the spot-kick to put Birmingham ahead.
Despite the setback, Wolves kept coming and two minutes later they were awarded a penalty of their own when Blues central defender Gary Breen was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball inside the box. Thompson scored from the spot to equalise.
At this stage, a draw seemed like a fair result but the drama wasn’t over yet.
Step forward Steve Bull – so often Wolves’ saviour – who latched onto Simon Osborn’s long through ball and fired his effort past Griemink into the bottom corner to seal a remarkable victory with virtually the last kick of the game.
The celebrations would not last long, however, as Wolves finished the season in 20th place – three points and five places behind their West Midlands rivals.
More recently, Wolves have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last seven league visits to St Andrews. However, they are unbeaten in the last five league clashes – winning three and drawing two.
The reverse fixture at Molineux ended in a goalless draw, but Wolves did the double over Blues during the ill-fated 2012/13 season.
Birmingham’s last league win against Wolves came at St Andrews in February 2010, when Kevin Phillips came off the bench to score a late brace and clinch a 2-1 win.
History suggests that promotion-chasing Wolves will win the bragging rights this weekend.
While bragging rights are great, three points are far more important!