Mowbray wheel of Fortune turns towards great escape
West Bromwich Albion 3 Wigan Athletic 1
Sunday 10 May 2009
Tony Mowbray has won many admirers this season, for West Bromwich Albion's enterprising brand of football, and he may yet earn a few more if he can secure a second, miraculous "Great Escape" for the Baggies. Albion's hopes of Premier League survival are still alive after this second successive home victory put Mowbray's side only three points behind fourth-from-bottom Hull City. Suddenly the game with Liverpool next Sunday that only a few weeks ago would have been viewed with dread has taken on massive significance.
Mowbray is attempting to match the escapology act of 2004, when Bryan Robson became the first manager to lead a team to survival after being bottom at Christmas. If Mowbray can repeat that feat his will, arguably, be an even greater achievement.
The month of January was seen as the death knell for Albion's season, as Mowbray received no funds to bring in new players. But one of a cluster of loan signings, Marc-Antoine Fortune, proved influential here, his two goals leading West Brom to their second win in 15 games.
"Let's try and get six points from our last two games and see where that puts us," said Mowbray. "We've got to keep believing. Middlesbrough beat Liverpool 2-0 at the Riverside earlier this season so there's plenty of hope for us. It's a huge challenge ahead of us, but our home form is fairly good and I genuinely don't think we have ever played with any fear."
Wigan have not won since March and are longing for the season to end after guaranteeing their own survival some time back. Here they fell behind after just eight minutes, following another example of why Albion have continued to win admirers despite their unfortunate league position.
Chris Brunt's exquisite pass found Gianni Zuiverloon in the area and though his fierce effort from close range was superbly saved by Chris Kirkland, Fortune had the simple task of heading over the line while virtually standing on it. It proved to be Kirkland's final contribution, as he limped off shortly afterwards, to be replaced by Richard Kingson.
Another goalkeeper, Dean Kiely, made a first league start of the season for Albion, after Scott Carson cut his hand in training, and the new man produced a stunning double save to protect Albion's lead. The save to deny Paul Scharner's drive was special enough but his effort to deflect Olivier Kapo's shot from four yards, with the aid of his studs, was simply sublime.
However, Kiely was at fault in the 17th minute when he inexplicably allowed Hugo Rodallega's free-kick to slip through his fingers, after the Colombian's shot took a substantial deflection off Brunt.
Albion went in front again just before the hour, after a clumsy challenge by Titus Bramble on Youssouf Mulumbu. Brunt's spot-kick was saved by Kingson but the rebound was straight at him and he could not miss. It was the Northern Ireland midfielder's fifth goal in five games and his reputation is very much in the ascendant.
Fortune then produced a neat finish, 17 minutes from time, to send Albion's followers home with renewed hope of seeing a sequel to their version of The Great Escape.
Bruce's afternoon plumbed further depths when Amr Zaki, a substitute, was taken off on a stretcher with a suspected cruciate ligament injury. Bruce said: "It looks a bad one because it looks as if his studs got caught in the turf. We got 41 points with eight games to play and of course the mentality is 'Oh, we're OK now'. But we want to finish the season on a high, and going to Manchester United on Wednesday is a great chance to do that."
Referee: Peter Walton
Man of the match: Fortune
Match rating: 7/10
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