North End suffered their first away defeat since October as goals either side of half-time gave Wolves a 2-0 win at Molineux.
The home side took the lead just before the half hour mark, Dave Edwards clipping the ball over Declan Rudd from 12 yards out and Lee Evans doubled that lead 11 minutes into the second half, poking home from close range from a rebound.
Manager Simon Grayson went with the same side that started the New Year’s Day home win over Port Vale, top scorer Joe Garner and Jack King replacing Paul Huntington and Kevin Davies from the side that drew 1-1 at Ipswich in the Cup the previous Saturday.
The game took a while to get going, but just before the 15 minute mark the Lilywhites had a strong shout for a penalty for handball by Danny Batth after Paul Gallagher’s ball into the box, however, experienced referee Scott Mathieson didn’t seem to see it for the strong sun streaming into the ground right down his view.
On 19 minutes a great passing move by the all-white clad Lilywhites eventually saw them win their first corner. Lee Holmes’ ball in created problems, but was cleared eventually by the Wolves.
Two minutes later and Jack King was needed at the back to keep the scores level, clearing off line after Dave Edwards was played through one-on-one, lifted the ball over the advancing Declan Rudd, but it was brilliant cover by King to slide in and clear off the line.
On the break from this incident Iain Hume had the ball in the back of the net from Gallagher’s cross in from the left, but it was ruled offside, probably correctly, with the Canadian forward appearing to have strayed a yard behind the last man.
Kenny Jackett’s outfit made it 1-0 just before the half hour mark with Dave Edwards breaking the deadlock. It was a similar chance to the earlier one that King had cleared, through in right hand channel and lifting it over Rudd, but this time there was no Jack King on hand to clear.
North End almost responded immediately; Joe Garner with a brilliant curling shot off the cross bar and down – there was a question of whether it was over the line, but it wasn’t given and bounced out. Garner had been found 22 yards out by an excellent through ball from Gallagher into the left hand channel.
It was the Declan Rudd show before the break though with two excellent saves within 90 seconds. Firstly he did well to keep out a Kevin McDonald 25-yard drive, with Michael Jacobs firing well over from rebound – the on loan keeper having only seen it late and making an instinctive stop, then shortly after he was to deny Edwards again, after he breached the North End back four and finding himself clean through, only for the England U21 custodian to come out and smother the ball away.
The visitors had one more chance to level things up before the break, having been awarded a free kick for a foul on Lee Holmes 27 yards out in a very central position. Gallagher’s shot was on target, but it came off the corner of the Wolbves wall and out for a corner. Gallagher himself took the segment kick with an inswinging cross, but it was well claimed by McCarey right under his bar.
The lead was doubled 11 minutes into the second half, the home side pushed forward in numbers and James Henry brought a great one-handed save out of Declan Rudd, but the on-rushing Lee Evans poked the ball under the stranded keeper into the empty net from ten yards out.
Another Gallagher free kick came off the wall on the hour mark as Kevin Davies and Scott Wiseman – on debut – were introduced and in the same spell of play Joe Garner seemed to be upended for a blatant penalty, but Mr Mathieson, who had a perfect view, stood motionless.
Paul Gallagher was denied from 20 yards by McCarey after a driving team run forward as the game entered the final 15 minutes and North End pressed hard to get themselves back into the game.
Joe Garner then beat the goalkeeper, but Danny Batth blocked on the line after a Neil Kilkenny through ball split the Wolves defence. Back-to-back corners followed, but McCarey made a fine grab to relieve the pressure.
Four minutes were added on, but it was not time for North End to get anything back as they lost their proud away record.
Wolverhampton Wanderers line-up: McCarey, Goldbourne, Ricketts, Stearman, Batth, Henry, McDonald, Jacobs, Evans (Elokobi, 90), Edwards (Davis, 64), Griffiths (McAlinden, 71). Subs not used: Hennessey, Sako, Cassidy, Doyle.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Clarke, Buchanan, Kilkenny, Wright, King, Holmes (Wiseman, 60), Welsh (Brownhill, 73), Hume (K Davies, 59), Garner, Gallagher. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Keane, Laird, Humphrey.
Attendance: 20,434 (3,464 away fans)
Referee: Mr S Mathieson