The names of Martin Albrechtsen and Tomasz Kuszczak scarcely lend themselves to inclusion in West Bromwich Albion's battle hymns, but the unsung duo were largely responsible for their club gaining a first away win this season at the expense of Wigan Athletic.
Albrechtsen was sent on, doubtless to protect a point for Albion, after Darren Moore had been sent off two minutes before the interval. A chant of "You don't know what you're doing", aimed at the manager Bryan Robson, rose momentarily from the away end, yet 11 minutes after half-time the Dane struck an exhilarating first goal in English football. It then fell to Kuszczak, who is keeping Chris Kirkland on the bench, to preserve Albion's advantage in the third minute of stoppage time with arguably the save of the season. Jason Roberts was barely two yards out when he drove the loose ball goalwards, only for the Polish keeper to hurl himself across goal and block the shot with his right hand.
Albion's victory, only their fifth in 49 Premiership away games, lifted them above Middlesbrough into 16th place and opened a five-point lead over Portsmouth. Next weekend they are at home to Sunderland, by which time they hope to have completed the signing of the defender Ugo Ehiogu from Middlesbrough.
Robson was understandably delighted before being whisked away to a football writers' dinner in his honour in London. "It was a terrific battling performance, with some magnificent saves by the goalkeeper," he said, adding in a pointed, if veiled, criticism of Moore's recklessness: "The players who stayed on the pitch did a fantastic job."
His Wigan counterpart, Paul Jewell, did not dwell, as a more self-serving manager might, on Wigan's territorial supremacy, manifested in four times as many efforts on target as Albion. "Give credit to West Brom," he said. "Their keeper didn't have too much of a sweat on until the death. I got the feeling we weren't going to score."
Wigan were too predictable, endlessly working the ball across the face of a congested Albion 18-yard area without the guile or penetration to translate possession into chances. "Maybe we're starting to believe our own publicity," Jewell mused before suggesting no one need feel sorry for a side who remain sixth in the Premiership and are still in both cups.
Albion had slightly the better of the opening half, Steve Watson's volley forcing a fine save from Mike Pollitt, before Moore crudely body-checked Roberts some 60 yards from goal. Since the centre-back had been cautioned earlier for wrestling Lee McCulloch to the ground, Mr Atkinson had no choice but to brandish the red card.
The goal came after Paul Scharner was dispossessed by Ronnie Wallwork, who advanced into Wigan territory before feeding Albrechtsen on the overlap. Any striker would have been happy to claim the finish that flashed across Pollitt into the far corner.
Wigan, missing the threat of Henri Camara and David Connolly, hit the bar midway through the second half through a McCulloch header. But even with 10 men Albion created chances, and Albrechtsen went for glory in another break-out when a pass inside to Darren Carter looked a more judicious option.
Kuszczak's cat-like agility, after Roberts fastened on to Andreas Johansson's stooping header in front of goal left Robson's deputy, Nigel Pearson, purring like George Galloway. "It's right up there," he said when asked how he rated the save. Albion, having lost four of the previous five league games, were grateful for the Pole's prowess. Wigan, beaten eight times in 11, must regroup and rethink.
Goal: Albrechtsen (56) 0-1.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Pollitt; Chimbonda, Henchoz, De Zeeuw, Baines (Johansson, 80); Teale, Scharner, Kavanagh, Bullard; Roberts, McCulloch. Substitutes not used: Filan (gk), Skoko, Jackson, Francis.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Watson, C Davies, Moore, Robinson; Greening, Wallwork, Inamoto, Carter; Campbell (Earnshaw, 79), Ellington (Albrechtsen, 44). Substitutes not used: Kirkland (gk), Chaplow, R Davies.
Booked: West Bromwich Wallwork, Moore, Robinson.
Sent off: Moore.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Kuszczak.
Attendance: 17,421.Reuse content