Gardner strike clinches local bragging rights
CRAIG Gardner secured deserved derby-day delight for Albion over 10-man Villa at The Hawthorns.
The midfielder popped up in the 72nd minute to fire home from inside the penalty area against his former employers – his first goal in the navy and white of the Baggies - and send the home support into raptures.
Albion were full value for the three points having dominated the encounter from the moment Villa were reduced to ten men midway through the first half, Kieran Richardson sent off for a studs-up challenge on Stephane Sessegnon.
It was Albion’s first victory over their local rivals in over three years, although Christian Benteke put hearts in mouths when he came close with a flicked effort in the latter stages of an enthralling contest.
The triumph ends a five-match winless run in the Barclays Premier League for the Baggies in what was their last home game before Christmas.
Club-record signing Brown Ideye and Portugal international Silvestre Varela were both handed starts, the latter making an inspired full league debut following some impressive substitute appearances.
The hosts started brightly, Ideye close to getting on the end of a Varela cross before Sebastien Pocognoli warmed the hands of Brad Guzan amid what was an open, end-to-end first 15 minutes which set the tone for the afternoon.
The clash took on a different look from the 22nd minute as Richardson was given his marching orders for a dangerous challenge on Sessegnon in the middle of the park.
Albion then took firm control as they looked to take advantage, probing the Villa defence.
Sessegnon enjoyed a clear sight of goal from Pocognoli’s 40th-minute cut back by Guzan saved well with his feet, before the Belgium international left-back tried his luck in first-half injury time.
Varela saw his far-post volley blocked by Alan Hutton early in the second period before Ideye blazed over from six yards following good work by the winger down the left.
It was all Albion following Richardson’s dismissal but the hosts could find no way through.
Sessegnon again tested Guzan, this time from distance, before Alan Irvine turned to Saido Berahino off the bench.
And the change paid off in the 72nd minute.
Berahino looked to find Varela with a cross from the right, the ball fell for Ideye and then subsequently Sessegnon, who saw his shot blocked, and Gardner was on hand to follow up from the rebound.
Benteke almost levelled for the visitors with a neat flick but it was the Baggies who were left celebrating come the full-time whistle.
Albion: Foster, Wisdom, Lescott, McAuley, Pocognoli, Gardner, Dorrans (Berahino 70’), Morrison, Varela, Sessegnon, Ideye.
Subs: Myhill, Baird, Dawson, Gamboa, Mulumbu, Blanco.
GOAL: Gardner (72’)
BOOKED: McAuley (foul 16’), Pocognoli (simulation 63’), Varela (foul 78’), Gardner (foul 90’)
Villa: Guzan, Hutton, Okore, Clark, Cissokho (Vlaar 78’), Sanchez (Weimann 78’), Richardson, Cleverley, N’Zogbia (Delph 45’), Agbonlahor, Benteke.
Subs: Given, Lowton, Grealish, Herd.
BOOKED: Cleverley (foul 42’), Hutton (foul 65’)
SENT OFF: Richardson (serious foul play 22’)
Referee: Mike Dean (Cheshire)
Albion star man: Silvestre Varela