Megson hails his late starters

Crewe Alexandra 1 West Bromwich Albion 2
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The Independent Football

If West Bromwich Albion duly go on to secure automatic promotion to the Premiership, Gary Megson, their manager, may well reflect on Saturday's victory over Crewe Alexandra as a decisive moment in the course of their season.

Due to the late kick-off, by the time his players took the pitch at Gresty Road, they already knew that Norwich City, Wigan Athletic, West Ham United, Reading and Ipswich Town had each failed to win their games.

It almost worked against them. Despite being the more purposeful team, they fell behind to Dean Ashton's 15th goal of the season just after the hour. But within 10 minutes they were ahead, and now Megson cannot help making the comparison with their last successful promotion campaign, two years ago.

"You try to keep the players focused on your own game but they all knew about the other results - it's unavoidable," Megson said. "There are times in any season that turn out to be turning points. I remember beating Coventry City last time we went up and having a feeling about it.

"There are 10 games left now and we've put some welcome distance between ourselves and the chasing pack. I wondered what impact the late start would have but it turned out to be a positive for us. It's been a good day." His team are now level on points with Norwich, albeit having played a game extra, with Wigan, in third, nine points behind.

It was hard not to feel some degree of sympathy for Crewe. As if to reflect the disparity between the two clubs, West Brom simply had more muscle. Megson's team are not so much tall as broad, and Crewe's welterweights were repeatedly bullied out of possession.

An exception was Ashton, the England Under-21 international, who collected Justin Cochrane's through ball before finishing emphatically for the opening goal on 63 minutes.

The lead lasted for only six minutes. Lloyd Dyer, the substitute, confused Billy Jones before crossing for Andy Johnson to score his first goal of the season.

Then Geoff Horsfield finally received some reward for an evening of unstinted commitment, hooking in a cross from which Lee Hughes, another substitute, scored the winner.

To their credit, Crewe did push for an equaliser. But from what would prove to be their final opening, Steve Jones shot just wide when he had been played through by Ashton. It betrayed the luck of a striker who has now gone eight games without scoring.

"It's difficult for us playing sides like West Brom," Dario Gradi, the Crewe manager, said. "I thought we deserved a draw, but we'd rather be in this league than the one below - it's worth fighting for."

Goals: Ashton (63) 1-0; Johnson (69) 1-1; Hughes (73) 1-2.

Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Ince; B Jones, Walker, Foster, Vaughan; Sorvel, Lunt, Cochrane (Robinson, 85), Hignett (Tonkin, 81); S Jones, Ashton. Substitutes not used: Tomlinson (gk); McCready, Edwards.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Hoult; Haas, Moore, Gaardsoe, Robinson; Johnson, Gregan, Kinsella (Dyer, 57), Koumas (Clement, 82); Horsfield, Hulse (Hughes, 65). Substitutes not used: Murphy (gk), Facey.

Referee: M Thorpe (Suffolk).

Man of the match: Horsfield.

Attendance: 8,335.