For this first time in a while, there was a real buzz surrounding FA Cup third round weekend at the Albion. Reduced ticket prices meant a crowd of almost 25,000 (including over 5,000 away supporters) would be at the Hawthorns to see the Albion take on Championship strugglers Bristol City.
After 95 frustrating minutes, Albion were still in the cup but left to reflect on a disappointing performance that had almost seen their FA Cup participation ended at the first hurdle.
Tony Pulis named a strong side, as he had suggested prior to the game, with James McClean and Salomon Rondon handed recalls after both serving three-match bans over the festive period. James Chester was handed a rare start at right-back in place of Craig Dawson, but the main discussion point saw the return of Ben Foster in goal after almost ten months out injured.
The first half was low on quality and goalscoring opportunities for either side, as Albion saw a lot of the ball but were unable to test a well-organised Bristol City back line.
Stephane Sessegnon was once again the bright spark down the right-hand side but on the rare occasions he did get himself into good positions after beating the full-back, his final ball did not pick out one of his team-mates and the visitors were able to clear their lines without too many problems.
Albion's best chance of the half came just before the break, as the ball was worked to James Morrison on the edge of the area, but he could only drag his shot wide when he should really have hit the target.
The lack of movement up front was causing plenty of frustration amongst Albion fans, with Rondon looking rusty after his suspension and Rickie Lambert offering very little.
The opening stages of the second half followed a similar pattern to the first, as Albion continued to see most of the ball but did very little with it.
The game was opened up just before the hour, as Pulis made a triple substitution to try and add a bit more urgency to the side. The changes saw the introduction of Dawson, Callum McManaman and Saido Berahino in place of Chester, who had struggled throughout the game, McClean and Lambert.
Albion immediately posed more of a threat and were ahead after 67 minutes, as Berahino somehow found the bottom corner with an excellent finish through a crowd of players from just inside the area after being teed up by McManaman.
A lot has been said about Berahino since the transfer window opened and he will continue to be linked with moves away from the club until he eventually leaves or the window closes, but he is the only player who could have taken the chance that was created with such aplomb and will be very tough to replace if and when he does leave.
Albion should have pushed on from here and made the game safe, but a spell of uncharacteristically poor defending allowed Bristol City back into the game within minutes.
Their equaliser was a poor goal to concede, as Jonathan Kodija was left unmarked to head a free-kick from close range past Foster and into the back of the net with 16 minutes remaining.
It got worse for Albion nine minutes later, as the visitors capitalised on more slack defending to take the lead through substitute Kieran Agard, who reacted quickest to score from a few yards out after Foster had made a superb save to deny Luke Freeman.
The Albion players looked shell-shocked as despite playing poorly for long periods of the game, we had got ourselves into a position where we should have seen the game out and progressed into the next round.
We attempted to put Bristol City under pressure in the closing stages, but they dealt with everything we threw at them relatively comfortably and even looked capable of scoring a third goal to seal the win due to the amount of players we were pushing forward.
Just when it looked as though we were heading out of the cup, we found an equaliser in the fifth minute of injury-time. Rather than sending a free-kick straight into the box as we had done to little effect on several occasions during the game, we worked the ball to the left for McManaman, whose accurate cross found Jonny Evans at the far post, and his header back across goal picked out Morrison to volley home from close range and ensure that Albion would be in the hat for the fourth round draw on Monday.
This was as poorly as Albion have played at home for weeks, with the only real positive being that we have still got a chance of going through in the replay at Ashton Gate next Tuesday.
A draw was probably a fair result on the balance of play and although the visitors may well have taken a replay before the game, they will have been disappointed to concede an equaliser so late on and not punish a lacklustre Albion display.
From an Albion perspective, there is work to be done all over the pitch if we want to continue our recent improved league form this week and give ourselves a chance of winning the replay. We were surprisingly poor defensively for long periods of the game, did very little with the ball when we had it in midfield and were toothless up front until the introductions of McManaman and Berhaino gave the previously untroubled visitor's defence a bit more to think about.
Having played so well at times in our previous two league games, this result and performance was particularly disappointing and shows that we could really do with strengthening our squad this month if we want to build on a solid first half of the season.
The first aim will be to continue our recent league form when we face a tough trip to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to take on Chelsea.
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