Gaardsoe strike keeps Albion on course

West Bromwich Albion 2 Wigan Athletic 1
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The Independent Online

A stoppage-time winner by Thomas Gaardsoe, their Danish defender, kept West Bromwich Albion breathing down Norwich City's necks and left Wigan Athletic, who started the night lying third in the First Division, trailing 12 points behind them.

A stoppage-time winner by Thomas Gaardsoe, their Danish defender, kept West Bromwich Albion breathing down Norwich City's necks and left Wigan Athletic, who started the night lying third in the First Division, trailing 12 points behind them.

Two penalties - awarded by Howard Webb barely 48 hours after he was criticised by Sir Bobby Robson for allegedly lacking the courage to award one to Newcastle - had belatedly brought an attritional contest to life. Andy Liddell fired Wigan ahead with 18 minutes remaining, only for Lee Hughes to reply five minutes later.

Liddell's chance came after Bernt Haas was harshly adjudged to have handled, while Hughes' 10th goal this season followed a foul on him by John Filan. The goalkeeper was sent off, but Gary Walsh got his hands to the spot-kick without keeping it out. Wigan still looked set for a point until Gaardsoe volleyed in, leaving Albion 11 points clear of the pack.

The memory of Wolves' failure from a similarly strong position two years ago - when Albion overtook them - probably informed Gary Megson's disinclination to trumpet his team's excellent prospects. "We were poor, to say the least. We didn't pass well and lacked cohesion. I'll take the points, but we mustn't kid ourselves."

When the Wigan manager, Paul Jewell, was asked whether the top two were now too far ahead to catch, he said: "I think so. But for us to be in the top six is great so far. If we can get into the play-offs, even better."

The visitors, superbly marshalled by Jason De Vos, looked the better side in a game of few chances until they were reduced to 10 men. Liddell's goal was just reward for his clever wing play, but Hughes personified Albion's spirit and deserved his equaliser for the way he pursued Paul Robinson's through-ball as Filan hurtled out.

Hughes, heading down a cross by the lively Lloyd Dyer, also gave Gaardsoe his shooting opportunity. The outpouring of relief was a useful rehearsal for the celebrations that surely await Albion.

West Bromwich Albion (3-5-2): Hoult; Gaardsoe, Moore, Clement; Haas, Johnson, Gregan (Dyer, 52), Koumas (Kinsella, 67), Robinson; Horsfield (Facey, h-t), Hughes. Substitutes not used: Murphy (gk), Hulse.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, Breckin, De Vos, Baines; Liddell (Flynn, 85), Jarrett, Bullard, McCulloch; Ellington, N Roberts (Walsh, 76). Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Jackson, Farrelly.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

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