Belfast Telegraph

Irvine relieved to stop rot

Alan Irvine revealed his relief after a vital win over Aston Villa lifted the pressure on the West Brom head coach.

The Baggies beat their local rivals 1-0 at The Hawthorns thanks to Craig Gardner's first goal for the club.

Kieran Richardson was sent off after just 22 minutes for Villa following a reckless tackle on Stephane Sessegnon.

The visitors' challenge ended with Richardson's dismissal and Gardner, who started his career at Villa, struck with 18 minutes left to seal victory.

Irvine had been under pressure after just one win in nine Barclays Premier League games and admitted victory was huge.

"Relief is one of the emotions," he said, with Albion up to 14th on Saturday. "Obviously I'm delighted first of all. We probably deserved to win some of the other games recently.

"We're always looking for more, but I felt as long as we made the right decisions and kept patient the chances would come.

"I thought the crowd were fantastic and it didn't surprise me to be honest. I've not been involved in this derby before, but I've been involved in enough to know the place would be bouncing. The fans were great and right behind us all the way, but like the rest of us they got anxious towards end."

Gardner, a Birmingham City fan, ran to the bench to celebrate his goal with the head coach in a display of unity and Irvine was delighted for the midfielder.

"My hand is still stinging so I might ask him to go somewhere else next time - he's been a great professional since he first came in," said Irvine.

"He's been absolutely desperate to score, it means so much for him to score. I think he was a West Brom fan today.

"I'm so glad for him, he came so close last week with the free kick which looked a goal from the moment he struck it."

Defeat ended a five-match unbeaten run for Villa and Christian Benteke twice fired wide in the closing stages.

But Richardson's dismissal was key and manager Paul Lambert did not argue about the decision.

"I can see why the referee sent Kieran off, but he's not a malicious footballer," he said.

"His second touch overhit the ball, but in the modern game if you raise your studs the referee will give a red card. His enthusiasm probably got him sent off.

"I thought we were the better team at that stage and it's a big compliment to the team because for 70 minutes you wouldn't have known we were down to 10 men.

"In the last 15 minutes Christian had two good chances. There's a way to lose in football and we did that today."

Lambert also dismissed claims of a bust-up between Gabriel Agbonlahor and ex-Villa assistant Roy Keane ahead of Keane's exit last month and denied that the former Manchester United midfielder created a bad atmosphere.

He added: "I commented at Crystal Palace and I said there was absolutely no issues whatsoever. It's absolute nonsense being written about him.

"To label it poisonous is shocking, absolutely shocking. Ask any of the squad that."

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