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Stunned Wolves leave it to Lee; Full-time job offer eases play-off pain Wolves 2 Bradford City 3.

Manager Colin Lee was last night offered the platform to lead Wolverhampton Wanderers to the Premiership, despite the Molineux club's bitter disappointment at failing to make the First Division play-offs.

As Bradford City celebrated their return to football's top flight after an absence of 77 years, Wolves reluctantly accepted they will be spending another season in the lower grade.

But Lee's record since he took over from Mark McGhee last November has earned him and assistant John Ward the opportunity to take the job on a long-term basis. In 30 league matches since Lee's appointment, Wolves have lost only five times and yesterday's reversal ended an impressive 13-match unbeaten run.

The achievement has earned acclaim from directors and supporters alike and within an hour of the final whistle, chairman Sir Jack Hayward announced that Lee and Ward had been invited to stay on at Molineux. The duo will almost certainly be offered two-year contracts today.

"The board have asked Colin Lee and John Ward to stay on for next season, and the season after, and lead us to the Premiership," Hayward said. "Whether they want to accept our terms is up to them - we have to discuss that.

"We are delighted with the job they have done since November, when we were playing so badly we could have been relegated. Who would have thought then that we would be trying for the play-offs on the last day of the season?

"We have played with commitment and passion we hadn't seen previously and I think Colin and John have done a superb job. Even if we part company, I can't thank them enough.

"But we hope they accept the terms we offer and we shall make it very attractive. We will start talking tomorrow."

There seems little likelihood of Lee or Ward declining the chance of securing their jobs on a long-term basis, although the manager admitted he was shocked to be offered the position so soon after the final game.

"It's been sprung on me, but it's a good feeling to know a football club want you," said the former Chelsea and Tottenham striker, who was put in charge until the end of the season following McGhee's departure.

"It's talking time now. This has taken me completely by surprise, but I'm very pleased."

Lee acknowledges he is unlikely to have massive transfer funds, but he added: "With hard work, good staff and dedication, you can give yourselves a chance. I just wasn't expecting it directly after a game like that."

Yesterday's defeat was the first time Wolves had been beaten in the league on home soil under Lee's guidance, their only other Molineux setback since his appointment coming at the hands of Arsenal in the FA Cup.

While his record would stand scrutiny at any level, however, it wasn't quite enough to earn a place in the end-of-season shake-up. Wolves ultimately paid the price for drawing five of their previous six games and even a victory yesterday would not have been sufficient on a day when Watford and Bolton Wanderers both won.

That was at least some consolation for the home faithful, who generously applauded Bradford's jubilant players at the final whistle.

No-one was about to begrudge the Yorkshire club's return to the top grade for the first time since 1922. With the exception of runaway champions Sunderland, the Bantams have been the most attractive side in the First Division all season, even if it took them a while to slip into gear on a tension-charged Molineux afternoon.

For almost half-an-hour, Wolves were the more aggressive team, pushing forward relentlessly. They were rewarded by a 13th-minute goal from Norwegian striker Haavard Flo, one of only two players Lee has signed during his time in charge.

Neil Emblen met Paul Simpson's left-wing centre with a header which looped on to the bar, and although goalkeeper Gary Walsh claimed he was impeded by Robbie Keane, referee Chris Foy saw no offence as Flo calmly nodded in his sixth goal since his pounds 700,000 January move from German club Werder Bremen.

Home supporters suddenly sensed a breathtaking finale, but by half-time the mood had altered dramatically.

Veteran winger Peter Beagrie dispossessed Kevin Muscat and sidestepped skipper Keith Curle before drilling a 26th-minute equaliser; former Wolves striker Lee Mills fired the visitors ahead on 41 minutes following Robbie Blake's defence-splitting pass. Then came the news that Watford and Bolton were both leading anyway.

There was still the chance, of course, that a draw might do the trick if Bolton went down at Portsmouth, although that notion was effectively dispelled as defensive hesitancy allowed Blake to rifle home Bradford's third in the 64th minute.

It threatened to get worse when the visitors were awarded a penalty for Dean Richards' foul on Jamie Lawrence, but after Mike Stowell had brilliantly tipped away Beagrie's spot-kick, Wolves staged a late revival which almost denied the visitors automatic elevation.

Simpson drove in from ten yards following substitute Steve Bull's neat 79th-minute pass and when the midfielder's 25-yard free-kick crashed against the inside of a post, Bradford's hearts were in their mouths.

"We did everything we could to get a result," Lee said. "But Bradford are a good team and they were as desperate to win as we were. We couldn't have asked any more from our players. The commitment level was very high."

It now remains for Lee to commit his future to Wolves and resolve the futures of Richards, Curle, Simpson, Michael Gilkes and Mark Atkins, all of whom are out of contract.

Wolves may also find themselves fending off bids for Keane, even though the Republic of Ireland striker has indicated he is happy at Molineux and wants to achieve Premiership football in gold and black.

The job, it seems, is only just beginning.


Scorers: Flo (13) 1-0; Beagrie (26) 1-1; Mills (41) 1-2; Blake (64) 1-3; Simpson (79) 2-3

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-4-2): Stowell; Muscat, Richards, Curle, Gilkes; Emblen, Osborn (Robinson, 73), Sedgley, Simpson; Keane (Corica, 73), Flo (Bull, 61).

BRADFORD CITY (4-4-2): Walsh; Wright, Moore, Dreyer, Jacobs; Lawrence, McCall, Whalley, Beagrie (Sharpe, 84); Mills, Blake (Windass, 84). Sub: Watson.

Referee: C Foy (St Helen's)

Bookings: Wolves - Curle, Richards (fouls); Bradford - Jacobs, Windass (fouls); Mills (dissent)

Attendance: 27,589

Wolves man of the match: Paul Simpson - fine distribution and a well-taken goal.

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Author:Bishop, Rob
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 10, 1999
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