Roman Bednar was the 13th recruit of a productive summer for Tony Mowbray and his arrival barely merited a mention but he has emerged as the unlikely secret weapon in West Bromwich Albion's charge for the Premier League.
Bednar's move to the Hawthorns nearly collapsed before it was finally completed 15 minutes before the transfer deadline and now appears to be one of the shrewdest pieces of business outside the top division.
Mowbray, the Albion manager, surprised many when he replaced £11m of firepower with a number of loan signings after last season's play-off final defeat to Derby County. Diomansy Kamara and Jason Koumas were both allowed to pursue their Premier League dream and were replaced with the likes of Bednar from Hearts and Manchester City youngster Ishmael Miller. Both were virtually unknown when they arrived in the summer and Bednar, in particular, was never expected to play such a decisive role.
But the tall forward collected his 12th goal in 14 games to keep West Brom at the summit and his burning ambition to test himself against the best defenders in English football is inching closer towards reality.
"I like Roman a lot because of his humility," Mowbray said. "It means a lot to me, I want all my players to have that. I don't want temperamental superstars. I want footballers who work hard and graft for the team, that's more important than any individual.
"He accepts criticism and gets on with it. With players you have got to know which buttons to push and he's got to keep working. I'm screaming at parts of Roman's game, he's got to improve dramatically if he's going to be a top player. Some parts of his game aren't good enough – he knows that. When I tell him there's a wry smile on his face."
Albion were stunned in midweek by struggling Preston and looked set for another uncomfortable test when former player James O'Connor struck in the fourth minute. But Bostjan Cesar – another virtually unknown summer signing – struck a spectacular equaliser before Bednar delivered a towering header on the hour to win it.
Burnley, who have already beaten Watford, Wolves and Crystal Palace away this season, mounted a late bombardment with new loan signing Andrew Cole, a second half substitute, close to an equaliser.
Cole did enough to prove that his move to Turf Moor, for the rest of the season, could prove influential for Owen Coyle, the Burnley manager. "I instantly noticed when I met him that he was still hungry and determined," he said.
Goals: O'Connor (3) 0-1; Cesar (26) 1-1; Bednar (60) 2-1.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kiely; Hoefkens, Cesar, Albrechtsen, Robinson; Gera, Koren, Greening, Morrison; Phillips (Beattie, 61), Bednar (Teixeira, 76). Substitutes not used: Danek (gk), Barnett, Brunt.
Burnley (4-4-2): Jensen; Alexander, Varga, Unsworth, Harley; Elliott, McCann (Randall, 70), James O'Connor, Gudjonsson (Spicer, 81); Akinbiyi (Cole, 61), Blake. Subs titutes not used: Kiraly (gk), Caldwell.
Referee: M Pike (Cumbria).
Booked: Burnley: McCann, Harley, Randall.
Man of the match: Bednar
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