Roberts sends West Brom to new heights

West Bromwich Albion 1 Birmingham City 0
Click to follow

Never mind the Arsenal ­ at this rate "One-nil to the Albion" could become a staple of the football songbook. West Bromwich's 11th such win this season, secured by Jason Roberts' goal late in the first half last night, left them third in the First Division and Birmingham marooned outside the play-off zone.

Victory in a passionate derby was a satisfying outcome for Gary Megson in his 100th match as Albion's manager, and it would have been more emphatic had Roberts finished better in three other "one-on-one" openings. In the event, Birmingham could have snatched an undeserved draw, only for Darren Purse to miscue horribly with a free shot in stoppage time.

Megson, who is attracting covetous attention from managerless Aston Villa, later said of his side's favourite scoreline: "It wasn't for the want of trying to score more. I mentioned to Jason in training that I could only remember him missing once when through on a keeper. Sod's law he had four of them tonight and got just the one."

Hailing the double over Birmingham as a "massive result" ­ Albion are just a point behind Wolves ­ Megson added: "It puts us in with a decent shout for the rest of the season. We have the same points (54) from 31 games as last season. We've let in a lot fewer goals but scored four less, understandably since our best scorer (Lee Hughes) now plays for Coventry."

Steve Bruce surprisingly claimed he could "only be pleased" with Birmingham's display because injuries and suspensions had reduced them "to the bare bones". He had praise for Darren Carter, an 18-year-old midfielder who made an accomplished debut, yet conceded that Roberts was the difference between the teams.

Showing extraordinary energy given that they faced Leicester in a sapping FA Cup tie last Saturday, Albion set a fierce tempo. In the 10th minute, amid appeals for a penalty after Michael Johnson's challenge on Daniele Dichio, Igor Balis blazed the loose ball wastefully high. Balis, a Slovakian, will hope for greater accuracy when he plays against England in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2004.

Albion's second opportunity came courtesy of Jeff Kenna in the 17th minute. Kenna, who finished the evening with a broken nose as well as an offer from Birmingham now that his loan from Blackburn has expired, was weighing up his options when Roberts relieved him of the ball. Bearing down on Ian Bennett, the record signing shot too close to the keeper.

After some tentative Birmingham forays, a through-pass by Adam Chambers released Roberts on another run two minutes before the break. This time he was composure personified, angling the ball across Bennett to score his third goal in eight games since returning from a twice-broken foot.

Albion boast the best defensive record in the division and Birmingham did not test Russell Hoult with more than a routine catch from a 49th-minute header by Michael Johnson before Roberts again confronted Bennett. Sent through by Derek McInnes, he tried to dribble round the keeper, who pounced to smother the ball.

Birmingham promptly demanded a penalty themselves when Carter's shot struck Larus Sigurdsson on the hand. Adding insult to injury time, the loudspeaker announced that the visiting fans' train back into the city had broken down, to great glee from the Albion crowd.

West Bromwich Albion (3-5-2): Hoult; Sigurdsson, Moore, Gilchrist; Balis (Lyttle, 84), McInnes, Johnson, A Chambers (Dobie, 55), Clement; Dichio (Fox, 55), Roberts. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Jensen (gk).

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Kenna (Marcelo, 81), Purse, M Johnson, Grainger; Eaden, Hughes, Carter, Lazaridis; A Johnson, Furlong (Mooney, 63). Substitutes not used: McCarthy, Burrows, Vaesen (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Halstead, Kent).