Albion’s hopes of a Wembley shot at promotion to the Premier League were cruelly denied by a penalty shoot-out exit in the concluding episode of a dramatic Sky Bet Play Offs semi-final against Aston Villa.
On a pulsating and gripping night at The Hawthorns, the Baggies retrieved a first leg 2-1 deficit by beating Villa 1-0 thanks to Craig Dawson’s third goal of the season in the first half.
But, with Albion on top and pushing for a second, the game changed significantly in the 80th minute when a second yellow card for captain Chris Brunt gave Villa numerical advantage which stunted the home side’s attacking endeavours.
Urged on by magnificent support, the 10-men put in a Herculean effort to take through extra-time and into a penalty shoot-out. But two saves by Villa keeper Jed Steer from Mason Holgate and Ahmed Hegazi proved decisive and Albion were left to accept a standing ovation from their fans but the bitter disappointment of missing out on a Wembley trip.
The Baggies came into the play-offs burdened by injuries to key players and the suspension of top scorer Dwight Gayle and support striker Hal Robson Kanu. In the end, the handicaps proved too much to carry past Villa.
Dawson struck from a long throw-in by Holgate after 29 minutes, a goal greeted with decibel-shattering celebration from The Hawthorns fans and Albion took that intensity into a second-half which saw them gain threatening control.
But a second goal eluded them despite considerable pressure and Brunt’s second foul on midfield opponent John McGinn brought the 80th minute dismissal that totally changed the flow of the contest.
Albion forced extra time, thanks in no small part to a stunning save at point-blank range by Sam Johnstone to deny Villa’s Albert Adoma, and then hung on grimly driven on by the unrelenting backing of the fans.
Their reward was to force the tie to a penalty shoot-out, although the absences and game options available to Albion had dramatically reduced Jimmy Shan’s options for specialist takers in the nail-biting climax.
In the end, it was Villa who took the prize 4-3 when Tammy Abrahams beat Johnstone but Albion fans provided a fitting tribute to their team as they rose to applaud the players from the battle scene.
Albion: Johnstone, Dawson, Bartley, Hegazi, Holgate, Johansen (Morrison 71), Brunt (c), Gibbs, Phillips (Harper 75), Murphy (Adarabioyo 82), Rodriguez (Leko 93).
Subs: Bond, Townsend, Montero.