West Bromwich Albion 1 Aston Villa 0: Nice-guy Alan Irvine admits feeling the strain

Former Villa midfielder Craig Gardner scored the only goal as Albion saw off ten-man Villa

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The Independent Football

If there were an annual award for nicest man in football then Alan Irvine would probably have been nominated in each of his 22 years in coaching, such is the affection in which he has been held by seemingly every group of players he has worked with.

The question is though, can he disprove the time-honoured theory that the nice guys always finish last?  Sacked from both his previous managerial jobs, at Preston and Sheffield Wednesday, it would not have been an enormous shock to see him suffer the same fate at West Bromwich had they been beaten by Aston Villa on Saturday.

After all, it was a year ago to the weekend that Steve Clarke was dismissed with Albion in an almost identically poor position in the Premier League table to that occupied by Irvine’s team after four defeats in five matches.

Craig Gardner’s first goal for the club – his first, too, against Villa, where he learned his trade – ensured that no decision needed to be made in the Albion boardroom and enabled the 56-year-old Irvine to drive home to Merseyside not with his P45 on the passenger seat but with plans to watch upcoming opponents Queen’s Park Rangers in action against Everton tonight.


The speculation, he admitted, had been difficult to shut out at times. “It’s been tough but I knew the job would be tough anyway,” he said. “You don’t get easy jobs at this level. It doesn’t matter where we are in the league, it’s a tough job and I’d have been a bit naive if I imagined it wouldn’t be.

“But it’s vitally important that the pressure doesn’t start to affect my judgement, because if it does then there’s a fair chance of making poor decisions. That’s obviously easier said than done but I have to remain calm and try to keep all the speculation at arm’s length.”

Not surprisingly, he is not a fan of knee-jerk decisions when results fall short of expectations. “I think you’ll get a biased answer from me on that one but it’s proven that if you get constant change, things don’t settle down,” he said. “Stability is something every club is striving for.”

Villa, unbeaten in five matches, were playing for a draw after losing Kieran Richardson to a straight red card after 21 minutes. Gardner’s finish with 18 minutes to go put paid to that and his goal celebration with the Albion bench showed that Irvine has the unequivocal support of the players.

Goalkeeper Ben Foster agreed. “I can’t say enough good things about him, and everyone still feels the same way,” he added.