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Wolverhampton-Blackburn Rovers Preview
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Three minutes from relegation, Stephen Hunt ensured Wolverhampton would be back in the Premier League for a third consecutive season.
Hunt and the Wolves seek a fast start to the 2011-12 campaign Saturday at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers.
Coach Mick McCarthy's side stayed up by the narrowest of margins, with Hunt's strike in the 87th minute of a 3-2 loss to Rovers at Molineux in the final match of last season the difference between top-flight and Championship play. The goal prompted Birmingham to push for a winner at White Hart Lane, where Tottenham scored late to relegate the Blues.
McCarthy thinks the squad can make a mid-table push and perhaps even reach the top 10.
He said: "I have seen people putting us in the top ten, I saw the headlines the other day. And I don't see why not.
"We had 40 points last season and we could have had 45-47."
A porous defence led to life on a razor's edge as it conceded 66 goals. The Wolves addressed that area by signing central defender Roger Johnson from Birmingham City for 12 million pounds to help goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who regained the starting spot during last season.
They have continuity by securing midfielder Jamie O'Hara on a permanent deal from Tottenham. Hunt is the Wolves' best dead-ball specialist, and will again provide service to Kevin Doyle, Steven Fletcher and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.
"We've signed Jamie, who is better now having had a pre-season, and Roger has made a difference straight away," McCarthy noted. "And I think the lads are more confident - this is their third season now in the Premier League. They have all got better."
Blackburn's season-ending victory at Molineux provided a 15th-place finish, where it has ended three of the last four campaigns. There were nervy moments in the bid to avoid relegation, though owners Venky's have thrown their lot in with Steve Kean, who replaced Sam Allardyce last season.
Rovers have a pressing injury concern as defender and captain Christopher Samba has a strained groin and is doubtful for this match. Samba missed Blackburn's friendly against Kilmarnock on Saturday and is racing the clock to be fit for the opener.
"Chris has a niggling groin injury and I think it'll have to be looked at," Kean said. "If he is touch and go, then I'm sure he'll be out there."
Samba's presence is crucial following Phil Jones' departure to Manchester United in the summer, though the team is close to landing Ivory Coast defender Sol Bamba from Leicester City.
While the Venky's have chased big-name signings with empty results, Rovers banked on young potential with the players they did lure to Ewood Park. They paid Dundee United 2.8 million pounds for 24-year-old Scottish striker David Goodwillie, who had 19 goals in 44 total matches last year, and added 22-year-old Serbian midfielder Radosav Petrovic from FK Partizan, signing both to four-year deals.
"He's a player that scores all types of goals, headers, left-foot, right-foot, tap-ins," Kean said of Goodwillie. "I think he'll give us a different dimension."
Wolves has failed to beat Rovers since returning to the Premier League in 2009, losing three and drawing one. Blackburn outclassed Wolverhampton 3-0 at Ewood Park last season, scoring first-half goals from David Dunn and Brett Emerton.
Updated August 11, 2011