Saido Berahino went some way to redeeming himself at West Brom as his first-half goal sealed 1-0 win over bitter Premier League rivals Aston Villa on Saturday.
The England Under-21 international publicly pushed for a move away from The Hawthorns during the transfer window and even stating on deadline day via social media that he would not play for the club again under chairman Jeremy Peace.
But after holding clear-the-air talks with boss Tony Pulis and his team-mates earlier in the week, Berahino looked focused on the task at hand at Villa Park, capping his return to the Albion side with a goal just before half-time.
The striker, one of three changes from the goalless draw against Southampton last week, when Berahino was used off the bench, popped up inside the area to deflect home James Morrison’s powerful drive, rewarding an impressive first half for the visitors, who were largely untroubled by a disappointing Villa performance.
Salomon Rondon had two chances well saved midway through the second period before Micah Richards saw a headed effort disallowed for an earlier foul on a frustrating day for Tim Sherwood’s side.
The result stretches Villa’s winless league run to five games, with Sherwood now left to pick up his players ahead of another derby fixture in the form of Birmingham City in the League Cup on Tuesday.
All eyes were on the returning Berahino, but it was strike partner Rondon who had the first sight at goal inside two minutes, getting ahead of former Baggies defender Joleon Lescott to meet Chris Brunt’s whipped cross with a powerful header and force a smart save from goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Jonny Evans headed a Berahino corner just over five minutes later, but Villa, who made one change from last Sunday’s defeat at Leicester City as Alan Hutton started, weathered the early storm.
Despite doing well to tighten up the defence, there was precious little to excite the home crowd at the other end, with West Brom goalkeeper Boaz Myhill largely untested in the first half.
Jack Grealish blazed a 25-yard effort over after 24 minutes and Carles Gil’s goal-bound effort was blocked by Claudio Yacob moments later.
West Brom capitalised, with Darren Fletcher’s 20-yard drive tipped round the post by Guzan before Berahino broke the deadlock six minutes before the interval.
James McClean’s tenacity on the right allowed him to find Rondon, who touched it on to Morrison before his fierce low drive was deflected home by the foot of Berahino.
Despite the introduction of Rudy Gestede at half-time, West Brom continued to look the better side.
A great turn saw Rondon get away from Lescott on the edge of the area and sting the palms of Guzan with a vicious strike. He tested Guzan again with a low drive moments later.
Berahino was replaced by Craig Gardner as the visitors looked to solidify their defensive efforts, although Villa did have a ball in the net 20 minutes from time when Richards headed home, only for referee Martin Atkinson to call play back following a foul on Grealish.
Rondon had a far-post header gathered by Guzan eight minutes from time before Gestede nodded over in stoppage time, but that was as close as either side came to finding another goal.
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