Stylish Albion top at last
Saturday, December 15th, 12.45pm
WEST Bromwich Albion served up a lunchtime treat for the Sky cameras as they powered their way to the top of the Championship in a thrilling clash with promotion rivals Charlton Athletic.
Chris Brunt and Zoltan Gera carried on where they left off at Leicester City last week, with the former Sheffield Wednesday wingers sending over two towering crosses which the Hungarian international despatched into the Charlton net in identical fashion to the goal the two wide man crafted at the Walker Stadium.
Roman Bednar, leading the line in commanding fashion, had earlier grabbed his fifth goal in as many games to equalise Chris Iwelumo`s opener to ensure that the Baggies went into the half-time break on level terms after they had dominated the first 45 minutes.
Kevin Phillips rounded off the victory with a close range finish after Jonathan Greening`s near-post corner caused pandemonium in the Charlton penalty area.
It was an emphatic display from Tony Mowbray`s reshaped side, which showed three changes from the line-up at Leicester.
Jared Hodgkiss switched to right back, allowing Paul Robinson to reclaim his left-back spot, and Bostjan Cesar returned at the heart of the defence in place of Leon Barnett. Pedro Pele retained his place at the heart of the defence after his impressive display last week.
Up front, Mowbray resisted the temptation to give a quick return to Kevin Phillips, but stuck to the 4-4-1-1 formation he has used so successfully to negate the effects of the recent spate of injuries.
Albion bossed the first half and might have gone ahead on 15 minutes when the home side put together a swift and deadly move down the right. Koren`s quick one-two with Gera set the winger free and his first-time cross was met superbly by Bednar, whose shot cannoned off the outside of the post and away for a goal kick.
Bednar showed he can provide quality crosses as well as get on the end of them when he broke down the left and sent in a low left-footed centre which the in-rushing Gera just failed to connect with.
Brunt and Koren swapped passes in the middle of the Charlton half before the £3m man looked up and connected sweetly with a right-footed volley from 25 yards that curled agonisingly just inches past Nicky Weaver`s right-hand post
Charlton were well and truly on the back foot but all the old Albion defensive frailties were exposed again when Charlton suddenly broke down the left to take a 37th minute lead.
Jerome Thomas`s mazy run left Hodgkiss sitting on his backside before crossing for the hobbling Iwelumo to put his upper body strength to good use, shrugging off the challenge of two defenders to send a well-directed header just out of reach of the outstretched fingertips of the diving Luke Steele.
But Albion weren`t behind for long as Bednar fed Gera and then surged on to the Hungarian`s defence-splitting pass to turn the ball across Weaver and inside the far post for his fifth goal in as many games.
Greening sent a dipping right-footed volley from all of 25 yards just wide of the post as Albion threatened to run riot at the end of the half.
And the Baggies kept up the blistering pace and the second half was only five minutes old when Brunt delivered a high, curling cross from the left wing with pin-point accuracy for Gera to run in and head home at the far post.
The wingers almost combined again minutes later when another Brunt cross was met by Gera`s downwards header, but this time Weaver scrambled across his goal to push the ball out.
Brunt his another vicious volley goalwards but it fell to Weaver at a comfortable height and the keeper was able to punch clear.
The chances continued to come thick and fast and Charlton might have equalised through Darren Ambrose or substitute Luke Varney before the Addicks finally did get back on level terms on 74 minutes when Izale McLeod`s weak shot from Varney`s pull-back somehow squirmed underneath the diving Steele.
But it was only a brief glimpse of hope for the Londoners as Albion were back in front six minutes later when Brunt sent in another towering, curving cross from the left which Gera climbed high to meet with a powerful header which Weaver got a hand to but couldn`t prevent from hitting the back of the net.
Albion continued to press and it was no surprise that they extended their lead on 84 minutes when Greening`s corner wreaked havoc in the Charlton defence and Paul Robinson was able to feed a simple pass across goal for Kevin Phillips, on as a 72nd minute substitute for Filipe Teixeira, to ram home.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-1-1): Steele; Hodgkiss, Pele, Cesar, Robinson; Gera, Koren, Greening, Brunt; Teixeira (Phillips 72); Bednar (MacDonald 90). Subs not used: Martis, Barnett, Beattie.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-1-1): Weaver; Semedo, Sodje, Bougherra, Powell; Reid (Sankofa 69), Ambrose (Varney 65), Holland, Thomas; Zhi; Iwelumo (McLeod 46). Subs not used: Randolph, McCarthy.
Scorers - West Bromwch Albion: Bednar 43, Gera 50, 80, Phillips 84. Charlton Athletic: Iwelumo 37, McLeod 74.
Bookings - Charlton Athletic: Bougherra (49), Sodje (77), Holland (79).
Referee: Phil Taylor (Hertfordshire).
Just shaded Chris Brunt and Roman Bednar for the man-of-the-match award for his two goals and the defence-splitting pass that set-up Albion's first goal.
Andrade Filipe Teixeira