Albion must remain a cup team of unfulfilled promise for a while longer yet after a heart-breaking Capital One Cup exit to Arsenal on penalties last night.
By Martin Swain
The Gunners won the shoot-out 4-3 after misses by Craig Dawson and Morgan Amalfitano gave Nacho Monreal the chance to seal a fourth- round home tie against Chelsea with the final shot of a long day’s night at The Hawthorns.
It was a deeply disappointing conclusion for Albion who had responded bravely to a 62nd-minute goal from Thomas Elsfeld – Arsenal’s first shot on target in the game – to level with Saido Berahino’s fourth goal in the competition.
And that’s how it stayed, although Albion would come closest to finishing the tie in open play in the dying minutes of extra-time when three chances came and went, depriving the Baggies of a victory they would have just about merited.
But ultimately it was another night of KO disappointment for a club which for the past three seasons has possessed a team which seems capable of a much more substantial challenge for their first chunk of cup silverware since 1968.
Now they must wait for the new year and the FA Cup.
In truth, boss Steve Clarke will have gained some valuable insights from last night’s performance when the disappointment of defeat has eased.
Record signing Stephane Sessegnon was Albion’s most threatening player, Shane Long made a successful first return to action since he nearly became a Hull City player, Steven Reid had a highly satisfying first game of the season, while there was a successful central defensive outing from the stand-in partners Craig Dawson and Diego Lugano.
However, a turgid first 50 minutes appeared to be played out following the signing of a non-aggression treaty before kick-off.
But a first period forgettable but for a long-range Reid strike and a Dawson header keeper Lukasz Fabianski had to tip over gave way to a more engaging second half.
It was both cruel and ironic that it would be a slip by one of their leading players in the tie, Youssouf Mulumbu, which would be ruthlessly punished by Arsene Wenger’s team just after the hour.
An errant pass was snaffled and fed to Nicklas Bendtner who executed the pass of the match to play in Elsfeld. The finish was faultless and gave Luke Daniels, making only his second senior start in eight years, no chance. Just two minutes earlier Sessegnon and Mulumbu combined in a manner which will have Albion fans relishing their future alliance for the latter to force Fabianski to make his most challenging save of the game.
But undeterred, Albion kept coming and a 71st-minute corner from Graham Dorrans, who had a patchy night, reached Long at the far post.
He had time to control and flip a return centre back into the danger area where Berahino pounced with a close-range header.
After the match drifted into extra- time, a remarkable Dawson challenge denied Bendtner the chance to put Arsenal ahead again on 96 minutes but it was Albion who will be cursing their failure to kill the tie before penalties.
A ferocious drive from Amalfitano thundered back off the bar before Markus Rosenberg could not finish sharply enough after rounding the keeper and a tired Scott Sinclair failed to connect with a Rosenberg cross at volley height – all in a flurry of wasted opportunities over the final two minutes.
Albion were made to pay because, while Daniels gave them the early lead in the shoot-out by saving Serge Gnabry’s poor effort, both Dawson and Amalfitano went for top corner placements but pushed their efforts agonizingly wide.