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West Brom 0 Southampton 0 - Report

Albion and Southampton will do battle at St Mary's on Friday for a place at Wembley after a tight and competitive play-off semi-final first leg at The Hawthorns ended goalless.

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The Baggies gave just as good as they got against the visitors, who finished 12 points above them in the Championship final, but were unable to snatch a deserved goal to take down to Hampshire.

Carlos Corberan's men may live to rue some of the clear chances that went by, Grady Diangana in particular who was twice denied by Alex McCarthy. Darnell Furlong also went inches wide.

Russell Martin's visitors forced good openings too and Alex Palmer had to make two fine stops from Flynn Downes and Ross Stewart, the latter a fine reaction save from a deflection.

Conor Townsend (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

Southampton dominated possession, unsurprisingly, but Albion impressed in front of a booming Hawthorns atmosphere.

The Saints were twice winners in the regular Championship fixtures this season but you wouldn't know it from this first leg as Corberan's side looked to take the initiative and advantage ahead of a difficult second contest in five days' time.

The Albion head coach will be satisfied to see his side still in the tie. All of a Baggies persuasion dreamed of an advantage of any kind to take into the second leg, but the performance level will provide confidence they can mix it with a Saints side littered with Premier League experience.

Corberan named the same XI that got his side over the line and into the play-offs by that final-day success over Preston.

That meant Brandon Thomas-Asante led the line once more, with captain Jed Wallace a substitute again. Josh Maja was missing from the 20-man squad, with Corberan set to reveal why afterwards. Andi Weimann took his place on the bench.

Tom Fellows (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

The Saints continued with their switch to a back five that worked well on the final day at Leeds, where they won 2-1. Che Adams missed out from the squad and Sekou Mara took his place in the visitors' frontline.

The home boss had once again requested a booming atmosphere and supporters from a few hours ahead of kick-off, as hundreds gathered with chants, flags and flares to welcome the team coach on to Halfords Lane.

Owner Shilen Patel had turned up moments before. He stepped out of a taxi accompanied by associates and wearing shades to match glorious conditions. He happily signed photos and posed for photos. He claimed to be relaxed.

He surely couldn't have been moments before kick-off as a crackling atmosphere greeted both teams. The loudest of The Hawthorns this season.

Mikey Johnston (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

Albion players and supporters carried each other for the first 10 or 15 minutes. Southampton were somewhat shellshocked and couldn't find their feet or get a hold of the ball.

Corberan men tried to take advantage. They powered forward on several occasions, won a handful of corners and pressed high on the odd occasion the Saints had the ball.

An opening wouldn't arrive, though Mikey Johnston did sense a moment after he cut inside and flashed well wide from range.

Martin's visitors were always going to settle and did so. They were especially dangerous down the right, where wing-back Kyle Walker-Peters drove a low strike across goal from a narrow angle inside the box.

By the midpoint of the first period Southampton had taken control and worked a clear chance. Tom Fellows was caught in possession too easily by Flynn Downes and a give-and-go with Joe Aribo played the former in on goal.

Left of the box, Downes faced off one-on-one with Palmer and the latter came out on top. He spread himself for a fine low stop, and the retreating dive of Furlong behind him was not required.

Kyle Bartley (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

The ball popped up towards Adam Armstrong but the Saints top scorer could only volley awkwardly into the side netting amid a sea of bodies.

It was a jolt for Albion who struggled for 10 minutes or so. Southampton didn't carve out much else, bar an ambitious Sekou Mara bicycle kick, well off target.

Corberan's side would come again in an even first period - and only a wonderful stop from evergreen goalkeeper McCarthy, 34, kept the scoreline level.

Diangana was the creator-in-chief. Some wonderful tight footwork saw him keep possession and find Fellows out on the right.

The youngster beat his man with a trademark stepover and a hung-up cross to the far post begged for a touch. A soaring Diangana obliged and powered a downward header goalward. Somehow McCarthy was able to make a low save while tumbling backwards.

That was as good as both sides got in a competitive and entertaining first half amid tension and a booming atmosphere.

Martin's men re-established their dominance of possession after the interval but did little of note with it to harm Albion.

Corberan's men waited for their moment and struck back. It was the home side who were the clear dominant force and the big threat on goal in a second half that just didn't fall their way.

Saints struggled to clear another Fellows delivery but the ball dropped to the impressive Alex Mowatt's weaker right foot and he fired over when unbalanced.

The Baggies went much closer just after the hour. Much was coming through the electric Johnston, who Southampton's defence struggled to contain.

Johnston was confident and took on Walker-Peters. His dangerous cross was deep and Furlong beat his static marker to the flight of the ball and prodded goalward, only for his stretched effort to drop inches the wrong side of the right post. McCarthy was nowhere near it.

The home fans held their breath afterwards as the dominant Bartley clutched his hamstring with 25 minutes left. He soldiered on throughout and gave up very little to Southampton's attack, even after glittering changes were made.

Mowatt sent a free-kick narrowly over after Taylor Harwood-Bellis was booked for cynically ending an Okay Yokuslu surge as Martin introduced David Brooks and Ryan Fraser, who both scored here in February, and striker Ross Stewart.

A huge moment at both ends arrived with a little over 10 minutes left.

Fellows, who floated in and out of the game but was a huge source of creativity when on the ball, drove through two challenges towards the byline.

He kept his cool for a low cut back to Diangana, in space. The DR Congo international had time for a touch to compose himself 12 yards out and in a central position. His effort lacked some conviction, though, and was low at McCarthy, who made an easier save than he might have done.

Seconds later as the visitors broke Palmer was forced into the best save of the contest.

Saints sub Stewart, formerly of Sunderland, cut in from the left and his strike, which deflected off Bartley, was flying in but for Palmer's outstretched foot, as the keeper's weight flew in the other direction. It was a top reaction stop and kept his side level.

Corberan's changes arrived at that stage, four together with Wallace, John Swift, Yann M'Vila and Semi Ajayi all introduced, for a change of shape, for the final 10.

Despite a more defensive set-up in the closing stages it was still the hosts on top. Southampton almost paid for passing in their own box as McCarthy lost it, but the ball was worked to Conor Townsend and his strike was well blocked.

That was that for clear chances - but there was still a chance for a flashpoint deep into six minutes of stoppages as Albion attacked towards the Smethwick End amid a boisterous din.

Diangana, excellent again, nutmegged his defence and burst into the box. He hit the deck almost on the line of the penalty area amid loud claims, only for referee Samuel Barrott and his assistants to give nothing but a throw-in.

Nothing could separate the Baggies and Saints in the end and the duo will do it all again on the south coast on Friday night, where there must be a winner.


Albion (4-2-3-1): Palmer; Furlong, Bartley, Kipre, Townsend (Reach, 90+1); Yokuslu (Ajayi, 82), Mowatt; Fellows (Swift, 82), Diangana, Johnston (M'Vila, 82); Thomas-Asante (Wallace, 82).

Subs not used: Griffiths, Chalobah, Phillips, Weimann.

Southampton (5-3-2): McCarthy; Harwood-Bellis, Bednarek, Stephens (c); Walker-Peters, Downes, Smallbone, Aribo, Manning (Fraser, 71); Mara (Stewart, 71), A Armstrong (Brooks, 71).

Subs not used: Lumley, Bree, Rothwell, Sulemana, Edozie, Charles.

Attendance: 25,367 (1,996 Southampton fans)

Referee: Samuel Barrott