JONNY EVANS bagged an injury-time goal to floor 10-man Stoke City at the Hawthorns and give West Bromwich Albion bragging rights in the ‘M6 Derby’.
The game had looked to be heading for a draw when substitute Jonathan Walters struck nine minutes from time to cancel out Stephane Sessegnon’s opener.
But City were reduced to 10 men two minutes later when Geoff Cameron was shown a straight red card following a tussle with Claudio Yacob and Albion took full advantage as Evans bundled home a winner in the third minute of added time.
Cameron will now miss Tuesday’s Capital One Cup Semi-Final first leg with Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium and is also likely to have to sit-out next weekend’s FA Cup tie at Doncaster and the visit of Norwich to the Britannia Stadium on Wednesday week.
Mark Hughes will be forced to make at least one change against Liverpool but he named an unchanged starting line-up against Albion for the third successive game. In fact, he made just one change on the bench with Peter Crouch, fit again following a hamstring injury, replacing Mame Diouf among the substitutes.
City made a positive start and after Glen Johnson had threaten to embarrass Boaz Myhill with a cross from the right that threatened to drop under the Albion keeper’s bar, the Potters had appeals for a penalty waved away as a Cameron shot struck Chris Brunt.
The home supporters voiced similar appeals in the 12th minute as Jonny Evans appeared to be pulled back in the area by Cameron but referee Lee Mason failed to spot the offence.
Evans should have forged a breakthrough moments later but instead, much to the relief of the travelling fans, his toe-poke from point blank range found the side-netting after a corner from the right had found him at the back post.
Johnson forced Myhill to make a sprawling save midway through the first half as he left fly from 20 yards after cutting in from the right flank onto his left foot.
Marko Arnautovic squandered City’s best opportunity of the first half. Xherdan Shaqiri’s delightful through ball allowed the Austrian to spring Albion’s offside trap but his shot from an unmarked position 12 yards out lacked conviction and was easy for Myhill.
A sustained spell of City pressure led to a Bojan header being deflected narrowly wide for a fourth successive corner for the Potters.
It was, however, Albion captain Darren Fletcher who wasted the best chance of the first half four minutes before the break as he fired wide from an unmarked position in the penalty area after Hughes’ side had only partially cleared a free-kick.
The Potters carved open another opportunity at the start of the second half after producing a glimpse of the flowing football that has put the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton to the sword in recent weeks.
Johnson drove into the area, Arnautovic’s first-time lay-off found Shaqiri but the Swiss magician, who seemingly only had to put his foot through the ball, failed to make good contact and it proved easy for Myhill.
It was Albion who took the lead on the hour mark as Sessegnon hammered a shot into the roof of Butland’s net after great work from his skipper Fletcher and James Morrison.
Hughes responded to going behind by almost immediately introducing Joselu – fresh from scoring his first Premier League goal against Everton – to the action at the expense of his fellow countryman Bojan, who had struggled to make an impact on proceedings.
The City boss made a second change in the 68th minute as Jonathan Walters replaced his Republic of Ireland teammate Glenn Whelan but it was Albion who threatened to snatch the game’s second goal.
Morrison outpaced Shawcross and Philipp Wollscheid to get on the end of a long ball forward but, thankfully for the Potters, he fired straight at Butland.
Reprieved, City hit back nine minutes from time through Walters as, unmarked six yards out, he headed past Myhill from Joselu’s teasing cross from the left to level matters.
City were reduced to 10 men seven minutes from time when Cameron was shown a straight red card after reacting to a challenge from Yacob in full view of the referee Mason.
With a one-man advantage Albion went in search of a winner and they got it when, amid a goal-mouth scrambled, the ball feet of Evans and he provided the finishing touch from close range to break City’s hearts.