Birmingham City are closing in on the Coca-Cola Championship title after a dramatic, 10-man 2-0 win against long time leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers cut the gap at the top to just two points with each side having five games remaining.

Wolves have been at the division's summit since taking over from Birmingham in late October, since when Mick McCarthy's team have at times been nine points clear of Blues and 13 ahead of third-placed Reading.

But the pack is closing in on the hunted Wolves with Reading and Sheffield United now also chasing one of the two automatic promotion places in what promises to be a tense run-in to the end of the season.

Not that manager McCarthy, who magnanimously exonerated Lee Carsley from blame after the dreadful challenge on striker Chris Iwelumo that led to the Birmingham midfielder's dismissal, appears to be losing his nerve.

When asked what bearing the defeat would have on the title race, McCarthy answered flatly: "Birmingham are two points behind us, and if Sheffield United and Reading win their games in hand they're five points behind us. That's the only bearing I see.

"It's about points and how many you end up with - and we've got five more games to play." If they are to get the points they need from those five games then Wolves will have to defend far better than they did in a scrappy local derby at St Andrews.

Both of Birmingham's goals, each of them arriving after Carsley's 37th minute sending off, were scored due to sloppiness at the back and McCarthy admitted: "We were masters of our own downfall."

Though he condemned his team's defending, however, McCarthy refused to condemn Carsley, whose horrific studs-up challenge on Iwelumo led to the Scotland striker being stretchered off the field and possibly out of the title race.

McCarthy, who managed Carsley when in charge of the Republic of Ireland's national team, said: "Lee wouldn't go in to hurt anybody. He mistimed it and it wasn't a very nice tackle, but I don't think for one minute that he attempted to do Chris any harm."

The harm to Wolves is the possibility that Iwelumo may now miss some or all of their five remaining games, while there will be harm to Birmingham too as Carsley is now set for a three-match suspension.

Blues boss Alex McLeish, like McCarthy, defended Carsley's character if not his challenge. But the manager was more concerned with his team's re-invigorated drive to regain Premiership status 12 months after their relegation.

After seeing goals by striker Cameron Jerome and substitute Garry O'Connor give his team a vital victory, McLeish said: "The players are euphoric. It was a great performance with superb work rate and organisation - absolutely magnificent.

"We showed the steel, the resilience and the perseverance we've shown the whole season. It was a huge three points and we've closed the gap. Now we've got to make an attempt to win the title.

"It's in Wolves hands - if they win all their games they'll be champions. But, just as the teams below us will be trying to target us, we've got to look at the team above us - and our target is to win the title."

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