DENIED: Benteke, right, was unable to score against West Brom (PA)
WEST BROMWICH Albion ground out a much-needed three points in a 1-0 win over local rivals Aston Villa.
The result spoke as much for Baggies head coach Alan Irvine’s cautious approach as the qualities that his team possessed.
The win belied West Brom’s lack of attacking intent or any real urgency to arrest a barren five-game run without a win.
If ever was the game where attack was the best option this was it. The fire was extinguished from this local derby after just 22 minutes when Villa’s Kieran Richardson was dismissed for a rash challenge on Stephane Sessegnon.
And so for 68 minutes of the game, Albion had a numerical advantage which they largely failed to exploit.
Villa edged possession and for large spells were allowed to dominate with crisp, controlled possession leaving Albion’s extra man redundant.
It was on the 70th-minute mark before Irvine saw fit to unburden his midfield of its excess baggage by introducing Saido Berahino, for Graham Dorrans.
The fact that the striker was held in reserve for so long spoke volumes of the head coaches approach.
The change immediately drew dividends with former Villa academy graduate Craig Gardner profiting from a goal mouth scramble to drill the ball to Brad Guzan’s left.
Villa’s stoic resistance waned as legs tired and once West Brom did finally get in front it seemed there was little way back for Villa – the result bringing on an end a mini-rival at the club which has seen them arrest an alarming two-month slide down the table.
For Villa, with Christian Benteke reinstalled in the side and with Fabian Delph making a welcome second half re-entry there were reasons for positivity.
Delph’s presence alongside the industrious Carlos Sanchez at the heart of things did well to shield the visitors’ defence – a tactic which was working well until the hosts finally shook things up.
However Ashely Westwood’s absence will serve only to make Villa’s heart grow fonder for the underrated midfielder who is likely to miss the Christmas programme and the Villans will find it hard to replace his ability to control play.