ALBION’S debut in the Premier League Asia Trophy may have finished winless but the Baggies came away with plenty of encouraging pointers for the season ahead.
A 2-0 defeat by Crystal Palace in the third place play off at the Hong Kong stadium handed Albion the wooden spoon but it was a cruel scoreline from a game dominated by Tony Pulis’s team.
The Baggies were defeated by a world-class but deflected free-kick from Luka Milivojevic and a freakish second awarded to Bakary Sako but reliant on two deflections to beat Ben Foster.
The Albion keeper had precious little else to do but watch his team mates miss out on retrieving at least a draw as chances went begging when Julian Speroni wasn’t impressing with some fine saves.
Most importantly for Albion, all the 22-man squad came through two high quality pre-season work outs without any injury worries. For a moment in the first half, the Baggies and their loyal army of travelling fans feared the worst when the new Club captain hit the deck with a bad ankle twist.
But he was taken off, in the 23rd minute, as a precaution and Pulis later confirmed that the injury was “nothing serious” and Evans had departed the action purely as a precaution.
Evans was given a different role against Palace, patrolling midfield while Nacer Chadli started and Albion established a grip which peaked with two efforts from Salomon Rondon, one a shot saved by Wayne Hennessey and the other a back-post header narrowly off target.
Palace’s first attack, in the 12th minute, resulted in their opening goal as Milivojevic dipped a wonder free-kick over the wall which collected a helpful touch off Jake Livermore.
Sakho’s tame shot just before the break was another unkind cut for Albion as Foster was left stranded by the deflections off Ahmed Hegazi – again impressive for his new club – and then Craig Dawson.
It was the second half which saw Albion’s dominance grow and result in a string of opportunities which brought nothing but frustration.
Starting with Hagazi firing over from a Matt Phillips free-kick, Albion racked up one effort after another – Phillips forcing the best from Hennessey’s replacement Speroni and going just wide with a second effort.
Some of Albion’s football was a delight and a wonderful exchange between Chadli and Phillips brought another near miss as Jay Rodriguez just failed to connect properly at the back post.
Another fine save by Speroni kept out Rondon while even after the inevitable substitutions began, Albion remained dominant, James McClean producing a right-footed effort which narrowly cleared the bar.
Pulis again gave his youngsters precious game-time which enabled both Sam Field and Jonathon Leko to earn some admiring cheers from the Hong Kong fans while Kane Wilson enjoyed another run-out this time on the opposite flank after his efforts at right-back against Leicester.
Maddeningly, Albion finished the game without a goal but that was their only frustration as they prepared to head home in time for the next and very different phase of their pre-season schedule with Wednesday’s double-header against Walsall and Burton.