West Bromwich 3 Plymouth Argyle 0: Gera rises above the rubbish to clean up Baggies' act

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For two clubs brought together by the ebb and flow of the promotion race, this was always going to be an instructive test of belief. And it soon became apparent that both were thoroughly alarmed by their sudden proximity: the hosts having subsided from first to fourth, while four successive wins had catapulted the visitors to dizzy new heights in fifth.

The result was a common timidity, and the plastic bags buffeted in the gale by no means comprised the only rubbish strewn across the pitch in the first half. But then Zoltan Gera, the Hungarian substitute, stressed the folly of his original omission by scoring in its final throes.

Paul Sturrock, the Plymouth manager, described the opener as "a comedy of errors" and the second as plain "zany". Certainly Ishmael Miller showed charming candour in his bemused celebration of the vague scoop that idled over Luke McCormick. But Sturrock admitted that heads dropped thereafter, and Albion were strutting by the time Roman Bednar scored his 12th in 13 league starts.

New boy Luke Moore came on to join the party, but could hardly match the promise of another new recruit, Do-Heon Kim from South Korea, who immediately disclosed the sort of touch and imagination that merits examination in the Premier League.

There had been a comic moment when Jermaine Easter, apparently maimed, provoked the home crowd by leaping to his feet and rejoining an attack – a resurrection that suggested he treats his surname rather earnestly.

Albion manager, Tony Mowbray, remained lugubrious in his demeanour, but his words acknowledged renewed hope. "We're all disappointed to have dropped away from the top two positions," he said. "But I think there's a real determination to make sure everybody in the division knows we're still in there fighting."

Goals: Gera 45 (1-0); Miller 59 (2-0); Bednar 67 (3-0).

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kiely, Hoefkens, Barnett, Albrechtsen, Robinson; Teixeira (Gera, 17), Greening, Koren, Brunt; Miller (Moore, 62), Bednar (Kim, 70). Substitutes not used: Martis, Beattie

Plymouth Argyle (4-4-2): McCormick; Connolly, Timar (Seip, 63), Anderson, Sawyer; Teale (Mackie, 63), Abdou, Nalis, Halmosi (Clark, 68); MacLean, Easter. Substitutes not used: Larrieu (gk), Wotton.

Referee: U Rennie (Yorkshire).

Man of the match: Gera.

Attendance: 22,503.