HUGHES; A HAPPY BOY!
Lee Hughes went from roof-builder to roof-raiser with a remarkable super- sub show that shattered Crewe's history men.
The boy from the Black Country - as well as the black stuff - is the genuine article in these days of foreign mercenaries.
A local kid made good and living proof that football's dream factory is still alive and kicking.
Hughes has lived all his life just the proverbial goalkick away from the Hawthorns and grew up with stars in his eyes watching heroes like Cyrille Regis.
Overlooked by Albion for a YTS contract after four years with them as a schoolboy, he went to work for his dad, laying hot bitumen flat roofs while playing part-time for Kidderminster.
And it was his 34 goals for the Conference club last season that persuaded Albion to splash out pounds 200,000 for a player they could have had for nothing five years ago.
After he had opened his league account with two stunning goals in the last five minutes at Gresty Road, no wonder the former roofer and his proud dad Bill - sitting in the stand - savoured that top-of-the-world feeling.
The local hero appears to have struck an instant rapport with Albion followers, who invaded the pitch in celebration over his last-gasp winner.
Hughes has red hair, tattoos of a Tasmanian devil and a British bulldog on his forearms, dynamite in his boots and Albion in his blood.
Beads of sweat were still breaking from his forehead after his fun in the sun as he said: "I love the Albion and playing for them is a dream.
"My house is about a mile-and-a- half from the Hawthorns and I must have been about six when I first saw a game there.
"I was a season ticket holder before I started playing on Saturday afternoons.
"I was a schoolboy with them from 11 to 15 but wasn't offered a YTS contract and I wasn't too surprised because I didn't really develop until later. Anyway, going to Kidderminster was the right move for me. I dropped down, developed my game and was then able to work my way back up.
"A few clubs were interested in buying me after I scored 34 goals last season.
"But once I knew West Brom had come in there was no contest - they were the club for me.
"Manchester United could have come in and I still would have signed for the Albion. Apart from my love for the club there's a far better chance of getting in the first-team here. It was great to score twice, but I always feel confident that I'll get chances.
"I'm happy to go back on the bench if that's the way the manager wants it because I've still got a lot to learn.
"But my ambition is to help Albion into the Premiership."
Ray Harford's team made hard work of their successive win. They were 2-1 down with five minutes left of a game they had dominated when Hughes - a 56th-minute substitute for Paul Peschisolido - came to their rescue.
Harford admitted: "You feel that Lee is your ace card - you only want to use him when you really need him.
"He's still learning the game. He's very green, but he's very enthusiastic and a superb finisher.
"Sometimes his touch and movement are not very clever but that will come and anyway he can be as bad as he likes if he scores two goals every week.
"It was a hot day, we were 2-1 down, we needed something to liven us up and Lee certainly did that.
"He's a local boy, been a West Brom supporter all his life so this is a dream for him."
Albion looked to be cruising it when the impressive Andy Hunt gave them a deserved lead with a 25th-minute penalty after he had been tripped by Chris Lightfoot.
But Dele Adebola pulled Crewe level before half-time and it looked as if they would celebrate their first Division One home game of their 104- year history with an unlikely win when Mark Rivers finished off a superb 63rd-minute move with a clinical finish.
But Hughes had other ideas and produced two cracking shots to leave Crewe boss Dario Gradi admitting his team could face a grim struggle for survival unless he can find reinforcements.
With star men like Danny Murphy and Robbie Savage sold to the Premiership, and regulars like Gareth Whalley and Steve Macauley injured Crewe looked lightweight.
Gradi admitted: "One or two of them are being found out at this level.
"We're making too many mistakes and we're not providing Dele with enough support at the front.
"I can't see that side winning at Norwich next week unless we do something.
"We're coping in midfield, where I thought we would struggle, but the problems are at the back and up front.
"The only time we looked threatening was when we scored the second goal."
of the match
Andy Hunt would have got it but he was upstaged by super-sub Lee Hughes and his two late goals.
of the match
Dario Gradi pulled no punches: "We're finding out that some of our players can't cope at this level."
of the match
Crewe's second goal. Kenny Lunt fed Steve Garvey and his through ball was finished off in style by Mark Rivers.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Aug 18, 1997|
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