Albion Res 1 Man Utd Res 1
By Scott Field
ALBION'S reserves gave their temporary management team plenty of food for thought ahead of this weekend's Southampton trip with a spirited performance that almost had high-flying Manchester United beaten for only the third time this season.
Watched by caretaker manager Frank Burrows, an Albion XI packed with first-team experience were far superior to their young United counterparts in a classy first-half showing, before failure to add to Scott Dobie's opener cost them dear in a below par second period show.
Prior to Dobie's clinical opener, Gary Shelton's side had already created several of the game's best chances.
Indeed as early as the second minute it became obvious the pace and directness of Lloyd Dyer would cause United's right-back Phil Picken serious problems in particular.
Dyer's powerful left-wing run yielded a corner as his dangerous low cross was cut-out by an over-stretched United defence.
For Dobie, his account could have been opened a whole 12 minutes earlier had he not fired wide a 20-yard angled shot from the right, following solid wing-play from Romanian International Cosmin Contra.
United's response to this early Albion pressure came in the tenth minute with a quick break that resulted in Chris Eagles blazing over having escaped the attentions of his marker on the right edge of the penalty area.
Another flowing Baggies move was then almost capped by the goal it deserved in the 14th minute. Artim Sakiri was the instigator, breaking loose in midfield before allowing Brian Smikle the opportunity to centre the ball from the right. His resultant cross passing agonisingly inches ahead of the on-rushing forwards Rob Elvins and Dobie.
But Dobie's despair at that missed opportunity soon dissipated as he converted his second goal of the season for Shelton's side, much to the delight of a big Aggbrough crowd.
In the end it was an easy 21st minute finish for the Workington-born forward, as from the ten-yard mark he coolly side-footed home Contra's pull-back from the byline.
Again United's response was posted by the lively Eagles. His 30-yard free-kick deflecting twice on its way through to Polish keeper Tomasz Kuszczak in the 35th minute.
And Kuszczak was yet again called upon to deal with another United set-play, this time as the game moved into first-half injury time. The former Hertha Berlin stopper was alert enough to spot and stop David Jones' right-wing effort which came through a crowded penalty area untouched.
The Reds started the second-half as they ended the first and on the 52nd-minute mark Kuszczak was forced down low to his left-hand side to clutch onto Jones' driven shot.
Soon after, Sekou Berthe's strong-tackling saved the day as he interrupted a lightning quick United attack despite being outnumbered by two to one.
Still the visitors asked questions of the Albion rearguard, but still they stayed strong, as demonstrated when Kuszczak was called upon to smother Jonathan Spector's downward near-post header from a right-wing corner.
Moments later, United attacked again, this time down the left, but Berthe's presence was again in evidence, his perfectly timed-tackle and headed clearance from the subsequent corner earning huge applause from the Aggbrough crowd.
Persistence paid off for the Mancunians though in the 65th minute, as Albion turned attack into defence in squandering possession following a Sakiri corner.
Contra was the man at fault as he dallied on the edge of the opposition box allowing United to steal the ball and power toward Kuszczak's goal at high speed. Substitute Giuseppe Rossi was the creator, arrowing his cross diagonally toward the far-post for Jones to usher home beyond the stricken Albion keeper.
Smikle could consider himself unlucky not to have restored the home side's lead 11 minutes later. His excellent low shot was expertly saved by Tommy Heaton, this after Kyle Patterson fed the right winger with an accurate throughball.
Contra's night worsened when he scythed down David Poole after 78 minutes, resulting in a yellow card for the right-back. The consequent 20-yard free-kick was scrambled away through a combination of keeper and defence.
The Baggies' fifth draw of the season was eventually secured as Shelton's side finished the game strongly, much to the delight of a large Albion contingent.
They, along with the on-looking Burrows, will have been pleased with the plenty of bright points to come from the game, including the form of Smikle and Berthe as well as the completion of another 90 minutes for Japanese star Junichi Inamoto, who continues his rehabilitation from injury.
ALBION (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Contra (Hodgkiss 81), Berthe, Wallwork, Midworth; Smikle, Inamoto, Sakiri, Dyer; Dobie, Elvins (Patterson 73). Subs not used: Miotto (gk), Holmes, Davies.
UNITED (4-4-2): Heaton; Picken, McShane, Spector, Lawrence; Heath (Rossi 56), Jones, N'Galula, Eagles; Ebanks-Blake, Poole. Subs not used: Jones, Crockett (gk), Howard, Collett.
GOALS: ALBION - Dobie (21). UNITED: Jones (65).
BOOKINGS: ALBION - Contra (foul 78).
REFEREE: S Bratt
Nice to see Sakiri playing well hopefully he will get a chance under the new manager, along with Inamoto.