Well, that was exactly what the doctor ordered after an otherwise awful start to 2020 – even if it did get unnecessarily hairy late on!
The scoreline suggests it was close – and it was for the final 90 seconds – but we were deserved winners, with goals a Miguel Almiron double and second half strike from Valentino Lazaro sending us into the quarter finals of the FA Cup!
Steve Bruce persisted with a 4-2-3-1, playing Lazaro, Almiron and Saint-Maximin behind Joelinton, with Sean Longstaff and Nabil Bentaleb holding and a four-man defence of Manquillo, Lascelles, Schar and Rose and Darlow between the sticks.
We started the opening stages positively, dominating possession without posing too much of a threat, however we had one HUGE chance to go 0-1 up in the opening minutes – but wasted it horribly. Bentaleb stole the ball and created a 2-on-1 situation with Miguel Almiron alongside him, however his pass was behind the Paraguyan and the chance was gone.
Joelinton then headed wide after a clever ball in by Lazaro and the Brazilian was involved again moments later, beating his man and having a shot blocked after bursting into the box from the left-hand side.
A corner moments later then gave us another opening, with Joelinton peeling to the back post and heading across the box for Longstaff, who sliced a decent chance high and wide.
We were in total control in every department other than the score line – something we’ve not been used to saying this season – but our lack of final product where it mattered was letting us down in a game. Then, that changed.
Saint-Maximin went inches from scoring with a stunning 30-yard strike that smashed the upright, then he was at it again – only this time his brilliant work led to a goal, with him cutting in from the left and slipping a superb ball in behind for Miguel Almirom. The Paraguayan still had plenty to do, but slotted a left-footed strike into the bottom corner emphatically, giving us a well deserved 0-1 lead.
West Brom then came back into it, having a little more of the ball and applying a little more pressure in the final third, but we defended well and were on top again before long.
We looked set to go into the break with a well deserved 0-1 advantage, but were in dreamland just a minute before the break, where Almiron made it two after a clever move ended in a Joelinton back-heel that was lashed home on the stretch by Miggy – a goal which made him our top scorer.
Into the break at 0-2 and looking good, but there was still no room for complacency going into the second half, with us doing our best to throw away leads after positive first-half performances in our last two FA Cup away days at Rochdale and Oxford!
I hoped we’d learn that and keep playing in the same way moving in the final 45 – and we did exactly that!
Just seconds into the second half, some neat link up play saw Almiron pick it up out wide, and he wasn’t short on options with Lazaro bursting into space through the middle and Saint-Maximin in acres of room on the left. He chose Saint-Maximin, who controlled and passed across the box for Lazaro, who bundled home in front of the away end to make it 0-3!
More good football, a key pass from Almiron, another Saint-Maximin assist and Valentino Lazaro’s first goal for the club – which he thoroughly deserved in what was an accomplished and lively display from the Austrian.
The next 20 minutes saw us show slightly less intent from an attacking perspective, but remain in control at 0-3 – despite West Brom creating a few dangerous scrambles in the box.
Krovinovic’s introduction then changed the game for the hosts and they made it 1-3 via Matt Phillips, with his strike suddenly giving us something to think about given we threw away a 0-2 lead in our last FA Cup outing at Oxford!
They continued to cause problems and then made it 2-3 in extra-time through Zohore, making for a nervy final 90 seconds.
It should never have been this close, but that shouldn’t take anything away from what was a much improved performance and well deserve win to send the 5,000 strong away end home happy.
On a night where many arrived fearing the worst after some awful form in the league, that was a brilliant performance and a win that could give us a much needed boost ahead of crucial Premier League clashes with Southampton, Sheffield Utd, Aston Villa
For the first time in 14 years, we’re in the quarter finals of the FA Cup and just one win from Wembley!