Youngsters impress again but Baggies go out

West Brom 1 Brighton 3 (aet)

A very youthful Baggies side more than held their own against Premier League opposition but they were ultimately let down by their senior colleagues and a touch of bad luck.

Albion came within nine minutes of progressing to the fifth round, but a defensive calamity involving Kyle Bartley and Craig Dawson led to a Brighton equaliser.  When Hal Robson-Kanu was forced off through injury early in extra time with all four substitutions having been used, Chris Hughton made it even worse for the hosts by sending on Glenn Murray, and the Seagulls’ top scorer netted twice as the Baggies tired.

The ninety minutes was dominated by four mistakes, two in defence and two by the referee.  Paul Tierney somehow missed Florin Andone’s clear elbow on Sam Field in the first half which should have been a red card, all the more galling given that it was Andone who scored the equaliser.  But Tierney also failed to award Brighton a penalty in the second half when Tyrone Mears fouled Jahanbakhsh in the box.

It begs the question as to why there was no VAR in this match, given that there had been in the first game.  It seems that it was an arbitrary decision by the FA to only have it at Premier League stadia, but had it been in operation tonight, it could have been a very different game.

As for the defenders, Brighton’s Leon Balogun inexplicably stopped playing and allowed Bartley to open the scoring for the Baggies, while Bartley then repaid the favour with an awful touch that put Dawson under pressure, but I do feel that Dawson should have been able to recover that situation.  He slipped trying to fend off Andone and the Romanian striker nipped through, luckily nutmegged Bartley off his knee and then fired through Bond’s legs.

Rekeem Harper was once again the pick of the academy products as he produced a domineering performance in midfield, with Sam Field also playing well in the middle three alongside Jake Livermore.  With Leko and Edwards suffering from injuries, Moore opted to start Rodriguez which gave Albion a little more potency up front than we saw at the Amex in the first game.

One consequence of starting with J-Rod was that he was never going to play the full game and he was withdrawn at half time.  Albion had looked a little exposed at the back before the break with both full backs pushing forward, so Moore opted to bring Dawson on and switched to a back three.  It certainly helped defensively, but the Baggies’ threat dropped until Big Dave made his second substitution to bring on Rayhaan Tulloch for Jake Livermore, with Hoolahan dropping into midfield.

18-year-old Tulloch, who had made his debut in the match at the Amex, showed some real promise in the hour he ultimately played, and it is a very encouraging sign that the academy is producing some real prospects.  Unfortunately, he missed a really good chance to close the game out when Albion were 1-0 up, but it will have been a good experience for the Walsall-born striker and we may well see more of him before the end of the season.

While the Baggies were leading, Moore made a third change to bring on 16-year-old Morgan Rogers for Wes Hoolahan.  Rogers scored four goals for the U23s last Friday and could have made a real name for himself in extra time when he had a great chance to make it 2-2, but he misjudged the flight of the Harper’s mishit shot and failed to get a real connection.

By then, Albion were trying to get back into the game with ten men after Robson-Kanu was forced off through injury.  With an additional substitution in extra time, Moore opted to use it straight away and replaced Dawson with Hegazi, obviously with Saturday’s trip to Stoke in mind.  It was perhaps a little naive to leave himself with no options given that the likelihood of injury increases as players tire although, to be fair, the nature of HRK’s injury could not have been foreseen.

Ultimately, it was the quality of Brighton’s bench that told, with Glenn Murray coming on to score twice in extra time, while Big Dave left himself with a problem. Chris Hughton’s side were looking the stronger as the ninety minutes drew to a close, but it’s a real shame that the young players who performed so well for two hours were so up against it for the last 20 minutes or so with only ten men.

Having said that, had the referee done his job properly, it would have been the visitors who would have been a man short for about an hour of normal time.

Ultimately, the players selected gave a good account of themselves although once again it was defensive errors that cost the team.  Rodriguez and Dawson were withdrawn for tactical reasons so only Robson-Kanu looks to have picked up an injury, so the majority of the first team will be well rested for Saturday

I’d still prefer to be in the cup than not, but I guess it’s time to “concentrate on the league!”

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