Gardner returns to haunt old club
Craig Gardner eased the pressure on West Brom boss Alan Irvine as the Baggies clinched a crucial 1-0 derby win over 10-man Aston Villa.
The former Villa trainee - who took a swipe at his former club before the game - smashed in with 18 minutes left to settle a feisty derby after Kieran Richardson was sent off.
The visitors had to play 68 minutes with 10 men following Richardson's reckless challenge on Stephane Sessegnon.
Christian Benteke poked wide late on but Villa's second-half surrender should concern boss Paul Lambert.
Inspired by the excellent Silvestre Varela, on his full Barclays Premier League debut, the Baggies clinched just their second win in 10 games and ended Villa's five-match unbeaten run.
The hosts started £10million record signing Brown Ideye, ahead of Saido Berahino, despite the striker failing to score in the league since his summer move from Dynamo Kiev
He replaced Victor Anichebe, out with a groin problem, while Varela started with Youssouf Mulumbu dropped.
Richardson replaced Ashley Westwood, sidelined until next year with a knee injury, for Villa while Ron Vlaar and Fabian Delph returned to the bench after injury.
Sebastien Pocognoli stung Brad Guzan's palms and Graham Dorrans skewed well wide in an even opening.
The Baggies were calm while the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor sporadically threatened but a quiet game burst into life on 22 minutes with Richardson's dismissal.
The former Albion loan player - who helped them to their Great Escape from relegation in 2005 - took a heavy touch and then dived dangerously into Sessegnon.
While there was no malice it was reckless and, despite Villa complaints, their protests were muted.
Unsurprisingly, it roused the Baggies and, although they failed to create a serious chance, they had three penalty claims turned down.
First, Jores Okore seemed to give Ideye a nudge, before Sessegnon's cross struck Carlos Sanchez's arm but referee Mike Dean remained unmoved.
Gardner then tumbled under Sanchez's clumsy challenge as the Albion pressure grew.
And they finally forced Guzan into a smart save five minutes before the break when he pushed out Sessegnon's low effort from Pocognoli's cross.
Villa replaced the anonymous Charles N'Zogbia with Delph at the break to strengthen the midfield.
It was designed to add extra bite but Albion remained on top and Alan Hutton blocked Varela's volley 10 minutes into the half.
The winger curled over two minutes later as the Baggies pressed with Ben Foster a spectator at the other end.
Ideye should have done better than to blaze over from 10 yards from the lively Varela's cross before Berahino was introduced with 20 minutes left.
And the striker made an immediate impact as he played a key part in Albion's winner just two minutes after coming on.
His cross caused havoc in the Villa defence and, when Sessegnon's shot was blocked, Gardner, who questioned Villa's position as the Midlands' biggest club pre-game, rammed in from eight yards.
It jarred Villa into action and the previously quiet Benteke poked a yard wide before Foster parried Delph's 30-yard effort.
And, in injury time, Benteke sliced well wide from 18-yards and with it went any hopes of late derby heroics.