This was about as good as it can get without winning.
It’s not easy for lower league sides to beat Premier League teams in the FA Cup - Peterborough United have managed it once in 82 years - even ones so hopelessly out of form like West Brom, but Posh left the ABAX Stadium last night (February 10) with heads held high and chests puffed out. In contrast rascally West Brom winger James McClean sneaked away from the ground while sending a mocking, misspelt tweet to the home fans.
Before the match, Posh manager Graham Westley insisted he wasn’t a fan of ‘pride’, reasoning that it usually came before a fall, but if he didn’t feel deeply satisfied with the players under his care after this rousing FA Cup tie, he must be emotionally bankrupt.
His post-match press conference dispelled that notion as he spoke of his young squad rather like a proud dad would discuss over-achieving kids. He reckoned they would ‘grace Premier League shirts and Premier League grounds’ in the near future and not even the usual media cynics batted an eyelid.
The top-flight has probably passed Michael Bostwick and Gaby Zakuani by, but the central defenders were immense for the full 120 minutes. They tackled, fought and blocked their way through a high-tempo game and generally bettered Saido Berahino and Salomon Rondon, two strikers with decent on-field Premier League reputations. Zakuani’s effort was staggering as he’d played 15 competitive minutes in three months before this game.
But midfielders Martin Samuelsen and Chris Forrester are surely destined for the very top. Samuelsen’s feet were often too fast and tricky for the West Brom players, while Forrester’s sensational season continued as he delivered a display full of great passing and prompting. Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony reckons the inevitable future sale of Forrester will pay for the return of the home ground to club ownership - it would actually probably be enough to buy the whole of Fletton.
In fairness West Brom created by far the clearest opportunties to win the game without the need for a penalty shoot-out. Former Posh loanees James Chester and Berahino missed set-piece sitters at the end of the first-half and at the end of extra time respectively, while Zakuani headed a fierce Craig Gardner stroke off the line just before Posh ‘keeper Ben Alnwick denied Rondon with his legs towards the end of the 90 minutes.
But Posh took most of the neutral plaudits - and some West Brom ones - with the sheer energy and tempo of their play. Their enthusiasm and desire led to lenghty spells of domination, although clear-cut opportunities remained rare. If there is a problem Posh must solve quickly with a view to a successful promotion push it’s the lack of a natural goal-poacher.
Posh were excellent in the opening 30 minutes when Jon Taylor’s speed and direct running were a constant problem for ‘The Baggies’ as was Samuelsen’s skill-set. The on-loan midfielder showed his hand early with a cracking dribble that he should have completed with a shot at goal rather than pass to Harry Beautyman who was closed down effectively.
Now the visitors might be blessed with great playing talent, but they can spot a threat quickly. They spent the rest of the half fouling, tripping and pulling Samuelsen while timid match official Mike Jones looked on sympathetically.
Taylor tried his luck from distance in that dominant early period, while Bostwick missed his header when a set-piece from Andrew Fox was whipped in dangerously. Fox was a surprise selection at left-back, but a good one as Posh set out to contain the danger posed by the West Brom widemen.
Towards the end of the half the visitors rallied and Berahino threatened from the edge of the area twice before Chester’s glaring miss from six yards after a corner landed kindly at his feet.
Posh started the second-half on top and this time they received a tangible reward as Lee Angol’s pass was accepted by Taylor 10 minutes after the re-start and he finished with his left-foot with the help of a deflection.
Posh proceeded without due alarm, but conceded an equaliser 20 minutes from time as Darren Fletcher slammed a sublime half volley into the top corner of the net after Berahino and McClean had worked a crossing opportunity that Forrester could only divert into the scorer’s path.
That was the signal for the game to open up in thrilling style with Posh pressing as frequently as their much better paid opponents.
It was the same in extra time, but Posh only looked likely to score when substitute Marcus Maddison’s audacious chip landed on the roof of the net.
Berahino somehow missed a free, close-range header from a 121st-minute free kick to take the game into penalties where the greater experience and composure of West Brom won the day.
Sebastien Pocognoli, James Chester, Craig Gardner and Berahino scored the Baggies’ penalties with Fletcher’s miss their only blot. Bostwick, Maddison and Andrew Fox scored for Posh from the spot, but Baggies’ keeper Foster saved tame efforts from Angol and Samuelsen.
No-one should dwell on the shoot-out though. Posh had played with all guns blazing from the first minute to the delight of a crowd who provided a quite brilliant atmosphere from start to finish.
It was one of those nights when it was proud to be Posh, no matter what the final score.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Jack Baldwin, Michael Bostwick, Gaby Zakuani, Andrew Fox, Harry Beautyman (sub Marcus Maddison, 98 mins), Chris Forrester, Jon Taylor (substitute, Erhun Oztumer, 106 mins), Martin Samuelsen, Shaquile Coulthirst (sub Souleymane Coulibaly, 89 mins), Lee Angol. Unused substitutes: Harry Toffolo, Dion-Curtis Henry, Leo da Silva Lopes, Kgosi Ntlhe.
West Brom: Ben Foster; Jonas Olsson, James Chester, Claudio Yacob (sub Stephane Sessegnon, 62 mins), Craig Gardner, James McClean, Cristian Gamboa, Saido Berahino, Gareth McAuley (sub, Sebastien Pocognoli, 19 mins), Darren Fletcher Salomon Rondon. Unused substitutes: Boaz Myhill; Victor Anichebe, Joe Ward, Tyler Roberts, Jonathan Leko.
Goals: Posh - Taylor (55 mins),
West Brom - Fletcher (72 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Forrester (foul), Fox (foul).
West Brom - Yacub (foul).
Referee: Mike Jones 5
Attendance: 10,632 (776 West Brom)