Albion’s youngsters were forced to settle for a goalless draw in their penultimate PL2 game against Stoke City on Monday night.
Layton Love wasted two good opportunities to change the outcome for the visitors, while Brad Foster had to be on his toes to stop a goal-bound shot in the final minute of the game, as Richard Beale’s men left the bet365 Stadium with a point which moves them above Aston Villa in the standings and into fourth spot.
The young Baggies’ place in the Premier League 2 Division Two Play-Offs was confirmed on Sunday afternoon when Norwich City - the only team who could’ve displaced Beale’s men in the promotion places - were beaten 5-2 by Southampton’s youngsters.
As a result, it meant Albion's U21s could focus on finishing as high up the division as possible with the points gained from their remaining two fixtures, starting in Stoke.
The first 45 in Staffordshire offered very little in the way of chances as both teams’ cautious play restricted any clearcut chances.
Towering, lively forward Love almost capitalised on a defensive error when he closed down City shot-stopper Tommy Simkin’s clearance on the edge of the box, Malcolm saw two tame shots saved, and Ethan Ingram nearly ghosted in behind the defence to head home.
Stoke fired no more than a few efforts towards Foster’s goal, but it was Beale’s Baggies who’d end the half strongest and maybe should’ve gone ahead.
Malcolm, once again, was in the right place to receive Harry Whitwell’s pass on the left side of the box before bearing down on goal, and if it weren’t for last-ditch defending from two retreating Potters players, the scoreline could’ve been different at the interval.
Alas, the forward’s strike was deflected over the bar to ensure the teams went in with nothing to separate them heading into the second period.
City improved after the break. Substitutes Luke Redfern and Jacob Holland-Wilkinson hooked a loose ball onto the roof of the net, while the latter forced Foster into an easy save.
Still, it was Albion’s academy hopefuls who saw the better opportunities fall their way. Love failed to punish indecision in the Stoke defence when he bided his time before seeing a shot saved by Simkin, having already flashed a shot just wide of the bottom corner prior to that chance.
England youth international Ingram thought he’d put the Baggies ahead when his direct run to meet an in-swinging cross was deflected on target, only to see Simkin claw the ball out from the goal line.
And proceedings looked like they’d close without a goal, until a hopeful throw-in was headed into the away team’s box and cleared to the edge where it was lashed back at goal by a City attacker.
Thankfully, shot-stopper Foster was alert to deny the fierce strike and send his team back to the Black Country with a share of the spoils ahead of their PL2 finale against Leeds United on Monday afternoon.
Albion: Foster; Hall, Ingram, Bryan (Harper-Bailey 46), Humphries; M.Richards, Andrews ©️ (Nguepissi 70), Whitwell; R.Richards, Love, Malcolm (Heard 60).
Substitutes: Cisse, Wangusi.