Sub Berahino and McAuley goals earn hard-fought win
SAIDO Berahino emerged as Albion’s super-sub for the second time this season as his sixth goal of the campaign set up a hard-fought win against the division’s bottom club.
Just like at Old Trafford, injury brought the England Under-21 international onto the field in the first half and he once again responded with a goal, breaking the deadlock with a fine 44th-minute finish.
Gareth McAuley wrapped up the points in the 83rd minute by heading home his second goal of the term from skipper Chris Brunt’s corner.
But Albion were made to work hard for their third league win of the season by a Palace side who showed plenty of fight as they were sentenced to a seventh successive defeat.
Twelfth entertained 20th at The Hawthorns as the Baggies went for their first home victory over the Eagles in nine years.
Steve Clarke made three changes – two enforced – as he recalled Shane Long, James Morrison and Brunt. Making way was the benched Claudio Yacob, Nicolas Anelka (illness) and Victor Anichebe (hamstring).
Palace’s XI featured former Baggies Jerome Thomas and Danny Gabbidon while ex-goalscoring hero Kevin Phillips was named on the bench. ‘Super Kev’ was granted a hero’s welcome on his first return to the club as a player since leaving in the summer of 2008.
Albion chose today’s game to show their support for this year’s Poppy Appeal and a minute’s silence was impeccably observed by the sell-out crowd before kick-off in memory of those who have lost their lives while serving in the British Armed Forces.
The Baggies kicked off towards the Smethwick End wearing specially-designed poppy shirts which will be auctioned off at www.wba.co.uk next week to raise much-needed funds for the Royal British Legion.
The hosts started positively and kept the Eagles pegged back, but it was the visitors who threatened first.
With virtually their first foray into the Baggies half in the 11th minute, Marouane Chamakh fed Adlene Guedioura just inside the box and the former Wolves man drew a smart save from Boaz Myhill at his near post.
Palace’s game-plan was obvious from the outset – sit back and deny Albion space in the final third and attack on the break.
It meant that Clarke’s men had to display saint-like patience when prodding and probing for an opening.
There were worrying signs for Palace in the 22nd minute when, after lengthy treatment, Guedioura had to be stretchered off following an innocuous collision with Myhill. He was replaced by Jason Puncheon.
Albion began to build up a head of steam by winning a succession of corners, but Palace defended them manfully.
The blustery conditions made life difficult for both teams and were a contributory factor to the severe lack of goalmouth action in the opening 30 minutes.
Albion suffered an injury setback of their own on the half-hour mark when Billy Jones hobbled off clutching his hamstring. The right-back was replaced by Berahino.
Gabbidon was called on to make a vital headed clearance after Stephane Sessegnon broke clear down the right before Morrison fired high over the bar from 30 yards.
Palace’s next effort came in the 40th minute but Puncheon was well off target with a snapshot inside the box.
But Clarke had underlined his attacking intent when he replaced Jones, a defender, with a forward – and Berahino came up trumps on the stroke of half-time. Brunt fed Sessegnon down the left and the Benin international charged at Gabbidon before squaring to the unmarked Academy graduate, who calmly drove his first league goal at The Hawthorns into the left-hand corner from 15 yards.
Berahino threatened again in the fifth minute of stoppage time when he rifled a difficult effort at Palace keeper Julian Speroni from 20 yards.
Albion began the second period on the front foot and Joel Ward had to clear acrobatically at the back stick to prevent Sessegnon getting on the end of makeshift right-back Morgan Amalfitano’s dangerous cross.
Palace midfielder Barry Bannan arced a set-piece into the Baggies box on 55 but Mile Jedinak’s downward header was easily gobbled up by Myhill.
Back came Albion and after Palace only half-cleared a Brunt free-kick, Gabbidon was in the right place at the right time to block Amalfitano’s goalbound 15-yard drive. Moments later, Damien Delaney got in the way of Sessegnon’s 20-yard shot.
Albion had their first moment of concern for some time on 61 when Puncheon’s 15-yard shot took a wicked deflection off Jonas Olsson. Myhill did well to turn the effort around his left-hand post.
Another deflection – this time off Youssouf Mulumbu – took Jedinak’s ambitious 30-yard shot well wide. However, from Thomas’ ensuing corner, the giant Australian went much closer with a downward header which flew just past Myhill’s right-hand post.
Albion were now struggling to keep possession and from Delaney’s hopeful forward header, Chamakh nudged the ball across the face of goal, forcing Liam Ridgewell to frantically hack clear.
The Baggies broke with purpose on 73 and Berahino set up Long inside the box following a forceful run. However, the striker delayed his shot long enough for Dean Moxey to slide in and steal the ball off his toes.
Brunt almost wrapped up the points in the 79th minute when he was picked out by the lively Sessegnon, but the skipper was just wide with a first-time shot from 15 yards.
But it WAS game over seven minutes from time thanks to the Baggies’ Northern Ireland connection. Brunt picked out McAuley at the back post with a pinpoint corner and the centre-half towered above Jedinak to head home.
However, there was still some work to be done before Albion’s fourth clean sheet of the term was secured.
Brunt did well to deflect wide Puncheon’s 18-yard shot before Myhill saved from both sub Yannick Bolasie and Delaney.
Myhill had to produce a fine stop to claw away Thomas’ mis-hit cross, which was arcing towards his far top corner and, moments later, Bolasie hacked a decent opening over.
Deep into stoppage time, Thomas fizzed a fine 20-yard effort just over from Chamakh’s header before referee Neil Swarbrick’s final whistle confirmed Albion had returned to winning ways.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Myhill; Jones (Berahino 30), McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Mulumbu, Morrison (Yacob 73); Amalfitano, Sessegnon (Vydra 85), Brunt (c); Long. Subs not used: Daniels (gk); Rosenberg, Lugano, Popov.
PALACE (4-2-3-1): Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Moxey; Jedinak (c), Dikgacoi (Gayle 79); Bannan (Bolasie 65), Guedioura (Puncheon 22), Thomas; Chamakh. Subs not used: Price (gk), Mariappa, O'Keefe, Phillips.
GOALS: ALBION – Berahino (44), McAuley (83).
BOOKINGS: PALACE – Thomas (foul 71).
REFEREE: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).
ALBION STARMAN: Stephane Sessegnon.