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Clarke cool on rising Baggies

The last time West Brom visited Wigan in March, Roy Hodgson was found waiting for the media to arrive in the press room to conduct his post-match conference instantly after the final whistle.

Free of relegation fears, there was no need for an immediate debriefing with his players following a score draw -- the meaning of the result was minimal.

Since then, the team's progression has been significant.

Under Steve Clarke, aspirations are becoming broader. Existence is not merely about survival. Had it not been for other results, this victory -- a first away from home -- could have leveraged Albion into the heady heights of the top four.

"It's not a monkey off my back, but it [the first away win] was something we needed to deal with sooner or later," said Clarke. "But we don't look far ahead. I remember as a player [at Chelsea] being top in November and we ended up in a relegation battle. It's a league that can bite you."

Such is Clarke's confidence, however, he could afford to drop Peter Odemwingie to the bench after the Nigerian's two-goal haul against Southampton. Zoltan Gera was also left out despite his intelligence being a virtue in Clarke's reign.

Ben Foster -- the goalkeeper with more clean sheets than any other in the Premier League this season -- meanwhile, was missing after being advised by a specialist to rest, so Boaz Myhill started his first top-flight game in 21 months.

The changes served for an uncertain beginning. Initially, Wigan's careful, methodical football was too advanced for Clarke's side but gradually, West Brom settled and improbably, a lead was sourced. Chris Brunt was left all alone despite his obvious ability to deliver crosses and deliver he did, finding James Morrison in the six-yard box. The midfielder had a run on Gary Caldwell and he leapt highest to head in.

Caldwell's anguish was soon more acute. Billy Jones sprang from right-back, nutmegged Watson and fired towards the box. The Wigan captain's leg was outstretched and he diverted the ball beyond Ali Al Habsi. Caldwell was later withdrawn.

A two-goal deficit was harsh on Wigan who were playing their part. But moments later Arouna Kone lurched towards Jean Beausejour's drive through the zone of uncertainty between goalkeeper and defence and connected with his right boot.

In the second half, Romelu Lukaku made Al Habsi stretch every sinew to save his shot after the Wigan defence hashed a series of clearances.

West Brom were more direct, created clearer goalscoring opportunities and, ultimately, the visitors' athletic football had a more profound impact on proceedings.


Sunday Indo Sport