Crystal Palace 3 Wolves 1
Makeshift striker Danny Butterfield grabbed a stunning six-minute hat-trick to dump Wolves out of the FA Cup and hand Crystal Palace a huge financial boost.
The Eagles, in administration with debts of more than £30m, set up a lucrative fifth-round visit from Aston Villa courtesy of Butterfield’s treble.
The popular right-back Neil Warnock has thrust into attack in his mix-and-match line-up had scored just one goal in the last six seasons.
But he was the unlikeliest of heroes as Warnock’s side continue to defy the odds.
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy may have had half an eye on this weekend’s Barclays Premier League clash with Birmingham, making five changes to his starting line-up, but there were still plenty of regular top-flight performers on show.
However Palace, whose financial plight meant they could only name six substitutes – five of them teenagers – were the better side throughout and deserved winners and the administrators will certainly be delighted by the prospect of a Valentines Day clash with Champions League hopefuls Villa.
Palace were six minutes from winning the first meeting of the sides 10 days ago until Ronald Zubar’s goal secured a 2-2 draw and they started confidently.
They almost opened the scoring in the 17th minute when Nathaniel Clyne, who 24 hours earlier had turned down a deadline-day move to Wolves, crossed from the right.
Top scorer Darren Ambrose met the ball with a fierce volley and was inches away from his 15th goal of the season as his shot whistled over the crossbar.
Wolves did not manage a shot in anger in the opening half an hour, and when one finally did arrive it was not worth the wait.
Debutant Geoffrey Mujangi Bia played a one-two with Nenad Milijas on the corner of the Palace penalty area but his first-time swinger flew high and wide.
Warnock was furious when Alan Lee appeared to be caught by Jody Craddock’s elbow as the duo went up for a header. Referee Lee Mason was forced to calm the Eagles boss down on the touchline while Lee, bleeding heavily, had to go off for treatment and re-emerged bandaged up.
Australian midfielder Nick Carle came agonisingly close to opening the scoring when he fizzed an angled drive across goal and narrowly wide.
Two minutes after the restart Ambrose tested Wayne Hennessey with a 25-yard free-kick which the Wolves keeper, diving to his right, dealt with comfortably.
McCarthy made a double switch on the hour, replacing Mujangi Bia and Sam Vokes with Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Chris Iwelumo.
But two minutes later his side fell behind. Ambrose’s corner was met by a firm header from Matt Lawrence which Hennessey kept out, but Butterfield was on hand to nod the loose ball over the goal-line.
Three minutes later Butterfield doubled his side’s lead. Lee headed an up-and-under to Ambrose, whose cushioned volley played in Butterfield and, with Wolves claiming offside, he calmly slid the ball past Hennessey.
The Selhurst Park crowd could barely believe their eyes, but Butterfield completed the unlikeliest of trebles in the 68th minute, latching onto another flick-on from Lee and finishing like a seasoned striker past Hennessey.
He sensed a fourth when Ambrose whipped in a cross from the right but Craddock was by now alert to the danger and managed to clear.
The former Grimsby defender was grinning from ear to ear when he was substituted with two minutes remaining to a standing ovation from the Palace faithful.
Karl Henry crashed in a consolation from the edge of the box with a minute to go but there was no way back for the visitors, who can now concentrate on their top-flight survival bid.