As a native of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we may assume Youssouf Mulumbu did not grow up dreaming of scoring the winner in a West Midlands derby. Yet the midfielder achieved the feat six minutes from time, earning 10-man West Bromwich Albion their first win over Aston Villa in 18 attempts dating back to 1985, two years before he was even born.
The Hawthorns crowd have a song about Mulumbu – "He comes from Africa, he's better than Kaka" – and this time they belted it out as if they believed it. Not only had Albion beaten their nearest neighbours, but they did so after defender Abdoulaye Meïté gifted Villa an early own goal and without Paul Scharner, sent off for a second bookable offence two minutes after Peter Odemwingie had scored for the fourth Premier League game running.
Mulumbu, ostensibly a holding midfielder, booked his place in Albion folklore when he surged on to a pass by Simon Cox, turned Luke Young with embarrassing ease and then evaded the challenge of Ciaran Clark before slotting the ball past Brad Friedel. After more than 26 years, it meant Carl Valentine was no longer the last Albion man to score the decisive goal against Villa while Roy Hodgson succeeded Johnny Giles as the most recent Albion manager to enjoy a victory over the claret and blue.
The normally undemonstrative Hodgson, fired by Liverpool four months ago, permitted himself a clenched fist. The 63-year-old, who is styled as head coach by Albion, has delivered 16 points from nine matches to steer Albion from 17th place to 11th and, in the process, revived his prospects of succeeding Fabio Capello in the England job at the end of next season.
Hodgson claimed Albion were now safe, even though they could be caught by freak results, and argued that his players, who had "exceeded everyone's expectations", fully deserved their success. Was it pleasing to hear his name chanted after his experience at Anfield? "They used to chant my name there, too," he said, although it was more likely to have the word "out" appended to it.
Assistant manager Gary McAllister, holding the Villa fort while Gérard Houllier continues his recovery from a heart complaint, rued a wasted opportunity and the "sucker punch" delivered by Mulumbu. "Villa are the biggest club in the Midlands," he added, "and we still want to finish top of the pile."
Albion have not kept a clean sheet since August – a run that stretches to a Premier League record of 33 games – and the largesse they lavished on Villa before either side had really broken sweat went a long way towards explaining why. Stewart Downing took up possession on the right and was allowed time and space in which to float a cross into Albion's area. Méïté, standing six yards out, stabbed at the ball with his right foot when the situation called for a clearance with the left. Instead of finding the proverbial Row Z he found the net.
Earlier in the season Albion might have folded. Instead they took the game to Villa and equalised on the hour. From a free-kick by James Morrison, first-time captain Jonas Olsson rose at the far post to head the ball back into the danger area. Cox and Scharner had efforts blocked but as the ball looped up off Stiliyan Petrov after the Austrian's shot, Odemwingie hooked in his 14th goal of the campaign.
Albion's chances of breaking Villa's hold over them were dealt a severe blow two minutes later. Scharner, harshly booked in the ninth minute for fouling Nigel Reo-Coker, first attempted to rugby-tackle Petrov then cut him down from behind, prompting the inevitable second yellow and then the red card. Villa almost regained the lead with a shot by Downing which Scott Carson scrambled behind, but then, to delirium tinged with disbelief on the Brummie Road End, came Mulumbu's coup de grâce.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: Odemwingie
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content