West Bromwich 1 Leicester City 4: Howard hat-trick saves Holloway chairman's wrath

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The Independent Online

Just when it must have seemed circumstances were conspiring against his manager, Leicester striker Steve Howard came up with three goals that might have saved Ian Holloway's job as Albion's promotion prospects suffered another jolt.

As chairman Milan Mandaric's sixth manager in seven months when appointed last November, Holloway knew it would not take much to test his employer's patience and Leicester slipped into the bottom three after losing at Southampton last Tuesday.

The former Plymouth manager insisted he "could not ask for any more support from the chairman" but match-winner Howard admitted that rumours Mandaric was ready to make another change were doing the rounds last week.

"You hear rumours," Howard said, after his hat-trick had lifted Leicester out of the relegation places. "We just had to do the best for him."

It was only Leicester's seventh win in 25 matches since Gary Megson quit for Bolton and Mandaric identified Holloway as the man to succeed where Rob Kelly, Nigel Worthington, Martin Allen and Frank Burrows were deemed to have failed.

Asked if he thought he would still be manager had Leicester lost at The Hawthorns, Holloway said: "I might not be manager next week if we don't win against Hull, who knows? There are rumours and counter-rumours every week.

"But I feel something changed after the Southampton game. The players were devastated but they managed to focus on the job today and showed a lot of character.

"It is going to take some fighting still to dig us out of this mess. It is very difficult when you are losing games but I couldn't ask for any more support from the chairman. He has been absolutely superb."

Saturday's match turned on the 35th-minute dismissal of Albion's Luke Moore for a late studs-up challenge on Richard Stearman.

With Jonathan Greening and Robert Koren in charge in midfield, the home side had gone ahead through Koren's deflected strike but conceded an equaliser within minutes of Moore's red card when Gareth McAuley powerfully headed in Joe Mattock's cross.

Greening's foul on Lee Hendrie 14 minutes into the second half offered Howard the chance to put Leicester ahead from the penalty spot. Having seized that opportunity, Howard went on to punish Tony Mowbray's team twice more, finishing with aplomb on both occasions after Hendrie and Barry Hayles set him up.

"Who knows what would have happened if it had stayed 11 versus 11," Mowbray said. "But we will not analyse this too deeply. We'll just move on to the next game." Albion, who would have gone third had they won, stay fourth, five points behind joint leaders Stoke and Bristol City but with two matches in hand.

Goals: Koren (22) 1-0; McAuley (38) 1-1; Howard pen (59) 1-2; Howard (79) 1-3; Howard (86) 1-4.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kiely; Martis, Barnett, Albrechtsen, Robinson; Gera (Pele, 62), Greening, Koren, Kim (MacDonald, 62); Bednar (Phillips, 69), Moore. Substitutes not used: Danek (gk), Miller.

Leicester City (4-3-3): Henderson; McAuley, N'Gotty, Kisnorbo, Mattock; Stearman, Oakley (Wesolowski, 83), Hendrie (Etuhu, 88); Fryatt, Howard (Hume, 89), Hayles. Substitutes not used: J Chambers, Campbell.

Referee: D Deadman (Cambridgeshire).

Booked: West Bromwich Kim, Robinson. Leicester Howard, Hendrie, Hayles, Oakley.

Sent-off: West Bromwich Moore (35).

Man of the match: Hendrie.

Attendance: 22,038.

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