West Brom head coach Slaven Bilic saluted a “massively important win” after substitute Charlie Austin grabbed a late winner to beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1.
Austin’s 88th-minute penalty came just at the right time for Bilic’s side, who were coming heavy pressure at The Hawthorns before stretching their unbeaten run to seven games with their third straight win to maintain their two-point lead at the top of the Sky Bet Championship.
Hal Robson-Kanu’s fourth goal in six games gave Albion a 10th-minute lead but Steven Fletcher’s 58th-minute penalty appeared to salvage a deserved point for the Owls, who had Liam Palmer sent off in time added on in a game where both teams hit the woodwork.
Bilic said: “It was a massively important win for us because it was like a ‘derby’ game, two players – Ahmed Hegazi and Gareth Barry – played their first games after long absences who are instrumental players for us.
“I consider it a derby because they’re on the front, they’re aggressive, they engage, they’re not kids and they’re physical with enough quality.
“On paper this was one of our toughest games because they’re extremely difficult to play against.
“So it was a great win for us. It wasn’t easy for us but I was very pleased with the way we organised the attacks.
“We didn’t create clear-cut chances but we were many times in front of the box trying to walk it into the goal when we could have tried a shot from 15 yards a few times.”
Bilic added: “In the second half, they stepped up a bit but unfortunately we made a mistake which gave them the penalty.
“After that they were physically good although we could have scored straight away with a chance, but they were winning those second balls and were much more present with a number of players in our part of the pitch, so we needed a presence from the bench.”
Wednesday boss Garry Monk could barely believe his side’s luck after late goals have now cost them six points in the last three games.
He said: “I’m upset for the players and the travelling fans. It’s quite an uncanny situation – probably the first time in my managerial career where the last three games have been exactly like that.
“I think we deserved to win, the way we played in the second half.
“The performance has been exactly as you need it to be, especially in the second half when we were the best team and dominated a very good side without getting the right rewards. It is a very frustrating feeling.
“It’s down to individual mistakes and, unfortunately for us, we’ve been punished very heavily for it.”
Monk admitted he had no problem with the two penalties awarded and the sending off of Palmer, adding: “My gut feeling and instinct was both were penalties.”
Regarding the build-up to the winning penalty, Monk said: “We just didn’t deal with the first phase – it was a simple kick from the goalkeeper, the lads were appealing for Austin being offside, but when you do that you still have to do the job and make a simple header.
“We didn’t do that and there was the individual mistake that then led on to ‘Westie’ [Kieren Westwood] coming out.”