It is 20 years next week since Colin Cameron made a clever run into the penalty area, positioned himself in between two Manchester City defenders, and met Henri Camara’s right wing cross with a glancing header.
The ball nestled in the right hand corner of City’s net, Cameron wheeled away to celebrate, and the 75thminute breakthrough proved a decisive – and historic – moment.
Decisive because it provided Wolves with their first victory of the 2003/04 season at the eighth attempt.
Historic because it was their first ever three points in the Premier League.
Now of course, football existed long before the inauguration of said Premier League, and so any statistics casually tossed out along those lines should often be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.
But the noise which greeted Cameron’s winner and the full time whistle demonstrated that this particular landmark did perhaps carry considerable significance, proving as it did Wolves’ first maximum haul in the top-flight – Premier League or otherwise – since a goal from another Scot Gordon Smith accounted for Leicester City almost 19-and-a-half years previously.
Of more significance than mere history was the fact that Wolves were in such desperate need of a win after a troubled start to the season.
Having been beaten 5-1 at Blackburn on the opening day, 4-0 by Charlton in their first home game, 5-0 by Chelsea in another home game, and only scored twice in their opening seven league assignments, baptism of fire was an understatement.
Goals for: Two. Against: 18. It was less baptism of fire, more towering inferno.
“It is always a learning curve going into the Premier League, especially if you haven’t played there before,” recalls Jody Craddock, who had arrived at Wolves from Sunderland in the summer.
“It is so difficult.
“The Championship has so many games and is physically demanding on the body but the Premier League is just so quick, with so many top players, and every mistake you make is usually punished.
“We struggled at the start, probably for different reasons and just weren’t up to it, not in terms of effort but quality, and although we improved over the season we ended up getting relegated because we just simply weren’t good enough.”
It had also been a difficult pre-season with the euphoria of the play-off final success against Sheffield United at the Millennium Stadium nowhere near matched by the amount of funds handed to boss Dave Jones for his summer transfer kitty.
On top of that, the pre-season friendly schedule featured concerning defeats against the likes of Morecambe – by six goals to one no less – and Yeovil.
In terms of recruitment, Wolves were already playing catch-up having secured promotion several weeks after their rivals, and ended up having to try to do similar in terms of league position after such a miserable start.
“If you look back at history, the teams that have gone up have had to spend to survive and grow,” argues Cameron, now assistant manager with Raith Rovers, where he started his career.
“Dave was never given the funds to properly strengthen in positions that he would have liked.
“On top of that, you have to look at the injuries we suffered to key players.
“Everyone saw what Joleon Lescott went on to achieve in his career and losing him for the whole season was massive – he would have made a big difference.
“And Matt Murray as well, a goalkeeper who I believe would have played for England had he remained injury-free, but he only played in the first game.”
With Wolves leaking so many goals, and Murray absent, who’d be a goalkeeper in those trying and testing circumstances?
Michael Oakes, that’s who.
With 51 previous Premier League appearances at Aston Villa under his belt, Oakes was certainly experienced enough at the top level as he came in to replace Murray from Blackburn onwards.
But, even as he performed well, and maintained his standards, Wolves just leaked too many goals.
“Any team going up finds it hard, and the quicker you can get a win or two under your belt to build some momentum the better,” says Oakes.
“The longer it goes without a win the harder that becomes, and we left ourselves a lot to do – too much to do – after that poor start.”
Gradually, however, there were some emerging seeds of promise.
Going to Old Trafford third game in and only losing 1-0 at Manchester United, a result which could have been even kinder had Henri Camara taken along his shooting boots, was a step in the right direction.
So too, a first clean sheet and point at home to Portsmouth, and then another draw at Bolton when it needed a late equaliser from the hosts to cancel out Alex Rae’s majestic piledriver.
Which takes us on to October 4th, 2003. And the visit of Manchester City.
Wolves, who had at least won their previous home game in the Carling Cup against Darlington, were sat bottom of the pile and City, under Kevin Keegan, were fifth, with three wins and three draws from their opening seven fixtures.
This wasn’t the all-conquering Manchester City team of the modern era, but still boasted plenty of quality such as David Seaman, Sylvain Distin, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nicolas Anelka with Trevor Sinclair and Robbie Fowler appearing off the bench.
It was the last game before the second international break of the season. For Wolves, to go into that, still without a Premier League win, was unthinkable.
“That game at Old Trafford, even in defeat, had given us a bit of confidence, and we had started to pick up belief and feel that, if we played to our potential, we could get that first win on the board,” says Cameron.
“So we felt o-k going into that Manchester City game, and it proved really tight with not much between the teams.”
Cameron, Rae and Camara had peppered the City goal with shots which Seaman had collected comfortably, and, with 15 minutes remaining, the contest was finely poised.
And then it happened.
Seaman spilled a Camara cross, and the ball was cleared back to the Wolves winger who turned onto his left foot and delivered an inch perfect centre which Cameron converted.
‘Cam’ you score it? Yes you ‘cam’.
The 5ft 8in Cameron had many strengths as a tenacious and goal-grabbing midfielder, but it’s fair to say that heading was not necessarily one of them.
“I liked to get forward, and to try and get goals, but getting on the end of crosses and scoring with a header wasn’t really part of my remit,” he says with a laugh.
“But when the ball went out wide, I thought I’d got to take a chance and try and get in between the two defenders.
“I managed to do just that which meant I didn’t need to compete with anyone – it was a great delivery and I got my head on it and it was nice to see it hit the back of the net.”
For a proud Scot, did scoring past a renowned former England keeper in Seaman add extra significance?
Another laugh. “It has been mentioned,” he replies.
Molineux erupted with joyous pandemonium. Despite the trials and tribulations of the start of the season, fans were very much on board with Jones’s team.
The underdog mentality brought out the very best of the Wolves faithful. Molineux became a cauldron. And now – and this was a first home league goal of the season in a spell which had spanned almost six hours – there was something to cling on to.
That spirit was most certainly needed, because City immediately swept forward in search of an equaliser.
And that brought Oakes into play, with some last gasp saves, including one particularly instinctive effort from a Sun-Jihai header, to prevent the ball from crossing the line, and to push Wolves over it.
“I can’t remember too much about that game apart from a couple of saves at the end,” Oakes recalls.
“It was just such a relief to get those three points after such a tough start to the season.”
“Relief – that’s exactly what I remember thinking as I walked off the pitch,” echoes Craddock.
“To get that first win on the board was massive.
“Even mentally, it becomes difficult to go so many games without winning but, once you get three points like that, it gives you a lift.
“Winning breeds confidence and losing breeds negativity, and so it’s really difficult not to fall into a slump when you are not winning as we hadn’t been up until then.”
Going back to Oakes, it was perhaps even more of a pertinent win, given his father Alan is City’s record appearance maker with 680 in league and cup, spanning 17 years spent at Maine Road.
Would Oakes senior have been pleased with his son’s heroics to deny City a point at Molineux?
“I would think so,” says Oakes.
“It was funny because my debut for Wolves came against Manchester City as well, when we won 4-1 on a Friday night.
“So it proved a decent fixture for me, and it was always nice to win against the big teams like that.”
The strains of Tom Hark, still being used as goal music at the time, rang out at full time, and the stadium was swathed in utter delirium.
“I thought we deserved it,” said Jones in his post-match interview. “I said to the boys it’s not just the fact it’s our first win but the manner in which we got it.
“But it’s a nice feeling because I think we had forgotten what it was like to win a league game!
“From the start of the game to the finish we kept going and played at our tempo and to beat a very strong side has given everyone a lift.”
The lift provided by that first Premier League win was followed up by another clean sheet on the road and a decent point at Fulham.
But even though Wolves gradually improved over the season, particularly with Camara and Carl Cort forming a decent partnership up top, it was never going to be enough.
There was an increasing inevitability about relegation, perhaps spawned from the moment the club didn’t invest sufficiently following promotion, but those players who never gave up the ghost still try and take the positives.
“It was a proud moment to get the goal that got us our first Premier League win,” says Cameron.
“It was really special, even more so that it was a header!
“As a footballer, when you are playing you always want to achieve things and be remembered for the right reasons.
“To be spoken about fondly 20 years on, about the play-offs and games like Manchester City, it’s nice that maybe it has stuck in the memories of the fans.”
“Nobody wants to be relegated and that was a huge disappointment,” adds Oakes.
“But it was still good to be part of the club’s history, getting into the Premier League for the first time and into the top-flight for the first time for so long.
“Even though it was disappointing, there were still parts which were great to be involved with, particular games which were enjoyable, especially on the back of the promotion the year before.”
For Craddock, relegation after a similar experience with Sunderland was especially painful.
And yet, as befitting his personality, he was eventually part of the squad which returned to the top table, the sole survivor of the Jones era, who went on to thrive as the experienced head of Mick McCarthy’s new broom, being named Player of the Year for 2009/10.
“As I have always said, I loved it at Wolves,” Craddock reflects.
“I prided myself on being a loyal player, and to get back into the Premier League and stay there for a couple of years was really important.
“I worked day in and day out to try and do what I could to help the team get there and stay there, and it was good that we managed to do it.”
Twenty years on, it is a very different Wolves, and a very different Manchester City, who will lock horns at Molineux this weekend.
For Wolves, heading into a sixth consecutive Premier League season, the investment into the playing squad in recent years has occupied a different stratosphere to that which Jones was able to call on after that memorable play-off success.
And for City? Seven league titles in the last 12 years, coupled with a clutch of domestic cups and last season’s Champions League? Times change!
But there have been many memorable Wolves/City clashes in recent history, and it’s not always been one way traffic.
The sensational double of 2019/20 will live long in the memory with Adama Traore’s late brace securing a win at the Etihad and Matt Doherty rounding off a fantastic Christmas comeback at home on one of those truly electric nights at Molineux.
Going back a little bit further, Dave Edwards completed a comeback win at home back in 2010, and on their travels Robbie Keane and Steve Bull have grabbed vital winning goals, the latter becoming the Midlands’ top goalscorer in the process.
Robbie Dennison scored his 49th and last goal for Wolves, a corker as well, in a 3-0 win against City in 1996, having nine years earlier hit the target in a 2-1 away win in the League Cup as Wolves produced a giant-killing League Cup win as the Graham Turner era took hold.
Then of course there is the biggest win of all, 50 years next March, when Kenny Hibbitt and John Richards capped an impressive all-round team performance by scoring the goals in a 2-1 League Cup final victory in front of 97,886 at Wembley.
So, of the 127 meetings between the two so far, there has been plenty of drama and plenty of intrigue.
And taking its place firmly within that, the time Colin Cameron’s deft header delivered a little piece of Molineux history.