Stephen Hunt knew his golden Wolves moment would come
It’s the final day of the Premier League season and Wolves are 3-1 down at home to Blackburn Rovers. With 87 minutes gone, there is very little time left...writes Harry Whittingham.
Tension fills the air at Molineux with relegation to the Championship looming large.
“We only need one goal,” scream the Wolves fans who still haven’t given up hope.
With Birmingham on course to get a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane against a heavily-rotated Tottenham side, Wolves look certainties to face the drop, courtesy of Blues having a one goal better goal difference.
However, all is not lost, as the ball falls to one man from the tightest of angles inside the box.
That man was energetic midfielder Stephen Hunt. The rest is history.
“From about December, I’d just started to come back from an injury, and I just knew I was going to score a big goal for Wolves to keep us up,” said the former Republic of Ireland international.
“I started visualising it, I don’t know why it came into my head, but it was a gut feeling that I had and maybe a visualisation of something in my head that I was going to do something memorable for the team.”
Despite being in the relegation zone for most of the season, Mick McCarthy’s Wolves could have counted themselves unfortunate had they been relegated on 40 points in 2010/11, but their prospects weren’t bright when they found themselves 3-0 down at home against fellow-relegation candidates Blackburn.
“As well as Mick, Terry Connor (assistant manager) had a few things to say at half-time, and I reiterated that by telling everyone that we had better keep fighting until the end,” Hunt recalls.
“It was very disheartening at half-time, but after that I was still lucky to be on the pitch. The way Mick normally did his substitutions, I’d usually have been subbed off, but because I got the assist which led to Jamie O’Hara pulling a goal back, I think that’s why he kept me on. When the ball came to me at 3-1, I knew what I wanted to do but I just had to execute it, and that vision of scoring an important goal throughout the season must have helped me.”
The ball curled into the back of the net prompting bedlam at Molineux, on a crazy final day of the Premier League season when the relegation situation was changing dramatically every five minutes.
Hunt’s goal took Wolves above Blues on goal difference, pushing their Midlands rivals into pressing men forward at White Hart Lane. That in turn left them exposed at the back, resulting in Roman Pavlyuchenko scoring Spurs’ winner, and sealing Blues’ fate, resulting in Wolves’ survival.
Today marks the ninth anniversary of Wolves’ survival and it will live long in the memory, but Hunt recalls that his over-riding emotion at the time was relief rather than joy.
“I remember feeling relieved at staying up more than anything,” he says.
“If you look at me in the dressing room celebrations after, I look like a moody so-and-so!
“People were jumping around and I was just standing still and I was actually dishing it out to people, because there were people in the dressing room who I hadn’t seen in there all year!”
Hunt, who now operates as a football agent after hanging up his boots in 2016, struggled through injuries during that 2010/11 campaign, but was always a strong character in the dressing room during his time at Molineux, especially when the team was struggling.
“I remember questioning Steve Morgan, then the chairman, maybe six months down the line after the survival, when he came to the training ground and had a pop at the team,” he says.
“I had a pop back at him straight away, because I would always do what I had to do to protect the team.”
Despite survival in 2011, Wolves couldn’t replicate the feat the following year, and finished bottom of the Premier League the following season, a 2-0 defeat to eventual champions Manchester City sealing their fate with three games of the campaign remaining.