Baggies suffer harsh cup exit
ALBION suffered a harsh FA Cup third-round exit at the hands of fellow top-flight outfit Crystal Palace.
The Baggies gifted Dwight Gayle the opener in the 22nd minute to set the visitors on their way into tomorrow’s draw.
And substitute Marouane Chamakh put a gloss on the scoreline by adding a second with the last kick of the game in stoppage time.
But it was the hosts who dominated the Hawthorns encounter as they tried in vain to find a way past a stubborn Palace defence.
When they did get through, the inspirational Julian Speroni stood firm, making impressive saves from Matej Vydra and Saido Berahino.
Keith Downing made eight changes to his starting XI as he named an attacking 4-4-2 line-up, while Eagles boss Tony Pulis added five fresh faces to his side.
The Baggies started brightly and in the tenth minute Zoltan Gera hooked in a cross from the right that Berahino volleyed well over from 15 yards.
But it was the visitors who almost stole the lead two minutes later when Yannick Bolasie broke free of makeshift right-back Craig Dawson down the left and found Barry Bannan in the centre. The former Villa man played a neat one-two with Gayle on the edge of the area before rounding Ben Foster and hitting the foot of the left-hand post from a tight angle.
Gera slotted Vydra in behind Damien Delaney in the 17th minute and the Czech Republic international unleashed a 15-yard strike that Speroni spilled but managed to gather at the second attempt.
Albion shot themselves in the foot on 22 as Goran Popov needlessly gave the ball away on the edge of his own area to Hiram Boateng. The Palace man rolled it to the edge of the area for Gayle, who wrong-footed Foster with a low shot to snatch the lead.
The hosts almost levelled immediately when Dawson leapt highest from Gera’s cross and saw his header clip the top of the crossbar.
The Baggies were struggling to find a way through Palace’s rearguard action and it was not until three minutes before the break they threatened again when Shane Long sent a tame header into Speroni’s hands from Dawson’s lofted ball.
Moments later, Long flicked on the ball for Vydra and he forced Speroni into a diving save to his left with a well-struck shot from just inside the box.
Albion applied the early pressure in the second half and, on 50, Berahino fired in a 20-yard drive that Speroni could not hold low to his left. The Palace keeper was fortunate to see the rebound fall to team-mate Jonathan Parr to clear.
Two minutes later, Bolasie headed Jonny Williams’ in-swinging corner just over from close range.
Downing made a change on the hour-mark as Dawson made way for Morgan Amalfitano and he took up a position at right midfield, with Gera dropping to right-back.
Moments later, Vydra was quickest to react to Long’s nod down and his 20-yard volley looked bound for the bottom right-hand corner of the net until Speroni flung himself full length to turn it around the post.
Pulis made a switch on 68 as Boateng made way for Stuart O’Keefe and that was swiftly followed by the introduction of Scott Sinclair for Vydra.
Good work by Long on 70 saw him pull the ball back for Berahino on the edge of the box and the England Under-21 international unleashed a fierce shot that Speroni did well to beat out.
Three minutes later, Sinclair tried his luck with a long-range effort that Speroni dealt with comfortably.
Long then went down in the box under the challenge of Parr – but referee Phil Dowd waved away the Republic of Ireland striker’s appeals.
Pulis made an attacking double change in the 78th minute as Chamakh and Jason Puncheon came on for Williams and Bannan respectively.
The Albion pressure continued. Speroni mishandled Sinclair’s corner in the 81st minute and Berahino prodded the ball back over the Palace keeper’s head – but also the bar.
Seconds later, Stephane Sessegnon replaced Yacob as the hosts’ final substitution.
His first contribution was to send an 18-yard drive over from Morrison’s pass, with five minutes remaining.
In stoppage time, the ball was pinging around the penalty area and Gera was unlucky to see his goalbound volley deflect inches wide of the left-hand post.
As the Baggies piled forward in desperate search of an equaliser, Palace broke and Bolasie teed up Chamakh to make it 2-0 with the last kick of the game.
ALBION (4-4-2): Foster; Dawson (Amalfitano 60), McAuley (c), Lugano, Popov; Gera, Morrison, Yacob (Sessegnon 81), Berahino; Vydra (Sinclair 69), Long. Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Brunt, Ridgewell, Thorne.
PALACE (4-5-1): Speroni; Mariappa, Gabbidon, Delaney (c), Parr; Williams (Chamakh 78), Bannan (Puncheon 78), Dikgacoi, Boateng (O’Keefe 68), Bolasie; Gayle. Subs not used: Price (gk), Moxey, McCarthy, Dobbie.
GOALS: PALACE – Gayle (22), Chamakh (90+4).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Gera (foul 27), Dawson (foul 55), Lugano (foul 56), Amalfitano (foul 90+2). PALACE – Boateng (foul 42), Parr (foul 60), Mariappa (foul 73).
REFEREE: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
ALBION STARMAN: Saido Berahino.