Mick McCarthy labelled West Bromwich Albion 'the best team in the Championship' after seeing his Wolverhampton Wanderers side walloped 3-0 in yesterday’s Black Country derby at The Hawthorns.
The Wolves manager pointed out that his team of potential play-off contenders have yet to play every team in the division. But, based on the fact that his usually miserly defence have shipped ten of their 14 goals this season against the Championship's top three (four against Cardiff City, three against Preston North End and three against Albion), McCarthy is in a good position to judge.
Admittedly, after Jonathan Greening's first goal since February and another for the in-form Diomansy Kamara, substitute John Hartson's dubious late penalty made it a flattering scoreline.
Against a team who started the day boasting the title of having the Championship's joint meanest defence, that turned it into the biggest Black Country derby win in 25 years since two goals by Cyrille Regis and one by Clive Whitehead beat Wolves by the same margin at The Hawthorns in December 1981.
But, with a wry smile, McCarthy still playfully suggested that new Albion manager Tony Mowbray has picked his moment to have come south from Scotland to take over the running of Bryan Robson's carefully-chosen squad.
"Tony's a very fortunate young man to have inherited that dressing-room in third place in the Championship," McCarthy said. "That's the best team we've played against.
"Normally you get jobs like this when the team are third bottom not third top. But good luck to him.
"We've not played everyone yet but we've played all the top three now and we've not played against a team who's better than that, and that includes Cardiff.
"He's got some good players but he's done well in his short time at Hibs and he deserves his opportunity."
McCarthy pinpointed the quality of Albion's finishing, even without top scorer and derby specialist Kevin Phillips, as the difference between the two sides.
"I was asked by the TV 'Do you think they were a bit more clinical in the final third?' And I said 'Bearing in mind we've just lost 3-0, it would appear they were'.
"That tells the story of the game. We've had plenty of it, to be fair. The goals we conceded gave them a foothold but in the second half, even in the first half too, we've had enough chances. And the fact that we've scored only ten goals probably tells its own story.
"The penalty put a gloss on the scoreline but it wasn't going to change the result, so they can just enjoy it, rub our noses in it even more and gloat a bit. But that's the way football is and our time will come.
"It might turn round when we play them at our place. We might be the ones giving them all the chants and enjoying it.
"It's my first taste of this derby and I thought the atmosphere in the ground was great. I didn't think it was too hostile either. Full house, fantastic atmosphere, just the way football matches should be."
After successfully overseeing his first game in charge, Mowbray himself was captivated by the always uplifting spectacle of his first sight of Albion fans 'Boing-Boinging' at The Hawthorns.
"It was quite a sight seeing the ground bouncing up and down like that," he said. "And we'll hopefully see a lot more of it this season. It will mean the team is winning and it would be good to keep the supporters coming in large numbers like they did today. With local pride at stake, it was important that we won."
After leaders Cardiff lost, the Baggies' fourth successive league win moves them to within four points of Dave Jones' side.
What pleased Mowbray most was how the team kept their concentration levels to repel Wolves' expected second-half challenge. Albion earned a second successive clean sheet — a regular feature under Gary Megson — for only the third time since being promoted to the Premiership two-and-a-half years ago.
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