Sheffield Wednesday 0 West Bromwich Albion 1
Kevin Phillips scored what could prove to be his side's most defining goal of the Coca-Cola Championship season here last night to seal victory four minutes into injury team.
Sheffield Wednesday will feel hard done by after seeing Jermaine Johnson sent off with 10 minutes to go before being denied the point they deserved by such a late winner. It was a cruel ending for the Owls but, in the interests of fairness, they snatched a point of their own at The Hawthorns with their own late equaliser earlier in the season.
That Albion won by playing indifferently should not be under-estimated. If they add the ability to win scrappily to their armoury of winning with grace, surely there is no stopping them in their quest to be promoted this season.
Manager Tony Mowbray has spoken about the importance of having impact players on the bench and by being able to call on Phillips, Ishmael Miller and James Morrison in the second half the quality of the substitutions told. It was Morrison's lovely cross that gave Phillips the one chance he needed.
Mowbray gave a first Championship start to on-loan Aston Villa striker Luke Moore, who partnered Roman Bednar, leaving a potent and, as it turned out, pivotal bench. Zoltan Gera, after his man-of-the-match performance against Plymouth Argyle, was a straight and obvious swap for injured Filipe Teixeira.
Sheffield Wednesday, 22nd in the division before kick-off, boasted a better defensive record than the top six clubs in the division, a statistic which makes it clear where their failures this season have been.
If they had had the services of Enoch Showunmi all season it might have been a different story. The on-loan Bristol Citystriker proved a handful for his old LutonTown teammate Leon Barnett and, in particular, Martin Albrechtsen in a first half that the home side dominated.
Left-back Tommy Spurr tested Dean Kiely early on from distance but for all Wednesday's endeavour an end product was sorely missing.
Albion's play was not helped by a surface that was never likely to encourage their best and even when it seemed that they had settled they failed to maintain their rhythm; their movement was laboured, the passing loose and their usually precise attacks were disrupted easily by Wednesday's combative midfield.
However, playing decent football was not impossible, as the home side showed in glimpses especially through Showunmi and Johnson - but it was Albion who created the best chances.
Robert Koren forced a superb save out of Owls' keeper Lee Grant on 23 minutes before Brunt, returning to his old stomping ground, fired the rebound from an acute angle over the bar.
Despite Albion's lacklustre performance, the best chance of the first half fell to Paul Robinson after Brunt's in-swinging corner was mis-directed by Showunmi in an attempt to clear. It landed on the penalty spot where the left back was lurking and unmarked but he pulled his shot wide.
There may have been the best part of a division separating these sides but the gap in quality was hardly glaring in the first period. If anything, Wednesday could have ended it ahead and would have done but for the sterling defending of Barnett, who blocked a Marcus Tudgay effort on 38 minutes and was always on hand to tidy up.
The build-up to Tudgay's effort had once again been inspired by Johnson and Showunmi, whose direct running and strength left Albrechtsen sprawling on the turf.
Albion started to look brighter in the opening exchanges of the second half. Only a superb tackle by Mark Beevers denied Moore from scoring his first Albion goal, as the striker tried to cut inside him 15 yards out after a tricky run.
Moore was showing signs of promise and plenty of willing.
Showunmi had started the second as he had finished the first; a constant threat, he was embarrassing Albrechtsen at times. On 55 minutes he lost his man and was one on one with Kiely who came out and got down quickly to thwart his effort.
On the hour the match became stretched and Bednar was substituted for Miller. Wednesday brought on on-loan Chelsea starlet Ben Sahar minutes later.
Koren should have scored with 20 minutes to go. Moore laid off a speculative Brunt shot from 30 yards into the midfielder's path but he fired over the bar. At the very least he should have worked the goalkeeper.
There was still nothing in it entering the last quarter when Kevin Phillips replaced Moore. But then it all kicked off.
Johnson got a red card for elbowing Jonathan Greening as the duo tussled but the Albion skipper got only a yellow for his part. Referee Andy D'Urso, whose smaller judgments had favoured Albion throughout, endeared himself even less to the Owls' faithful.
Hillsborough had become a furnace: the noise was deafening because of the perceived injustice but the majority of the crowd still paused to clap off Brunt, replaced for the last 10 minutes - and five minutes injury time - by James Morrison.
Johnson's red card had given his team-mates extra motivation as both sides pushed for a winner.
Morrison had a chance on 89 minutes and his own chance in injury time to win it. On the first effort his header from eight yards was straight at Grant but his second, after a strong run from midfield, forced a great save from the keeper.
Instead Morrison was left to provide it for Phillips, his pinpoint cross being nodded past Grant.
Scorer: Phillips (90).
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (4-4-2): Grant; Hinds, Beevers, Wood, Spurr; Johnson, Bolder, Kavanagh, O'Brien (Sahar, 68); Showunmi, Tudgay. Subs: Burch, Burton, McAllister, Wallwork.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Kiely; Hoefkens, Albrechtsen, Barnett, Robinson; Gera, Greening, Koren, Brunt (Morrison 80); Bednar (Miller, 62), Moore (Phillips, 74). Subs: Danek, Martis, Phillips.
Referee: Andy D'Urso (Essex).
Bookings: Wednesday - Wood, Bolder (both fouls); Albion - Greening (foul).
Sending-off: Wednesday - Johnson (violent conduct). Attendance: 18,805.