FEW of Burton Albion’s fringe and youth players emerged with much credit as they were knocked out of the Birmingham Senior Cup at the semi-final stage by West Bromwich Albion at the Pirelli Stadium last night.
Personnel-wise, it was a Brewers line-up which should have been able to match the Baggies’ Under-21 side, but inexperience, especially in defence, showed up all two often and they conceded two soft goals in the first half.
First they failed to clear their lines from a corner and Baggies winger Samir Nabi fired home from close range.
And there was then a horrible moment for goalkeeper Dean Lyness, who watched in agony as his attempt to clear from a backpass led to the ball skewing behind him and into his own goal.
As in a friendly match – which this basically was – one should not draw too many conclusions from such a game, and it would be harsh to criticise the young team for a disjointed performance.
But there were few signs that, barring injury, many of this team are likely to challenge Albion’s first-choice players between now and the end of the season.
Quite simply the Baggies were – without being anything too special – better, quicker and stronger than the majority of their opponents, and despite all being youngsters themselves, looked as though they had played a lot of football together.
Albion, managed from the touchline by goalkeeping coach Kevin Poole, named a strong side, with only three players in the starting XI not having played any first-team football this season.
They were all in defence, with Joe Doyle and Chris Richards playing right and left respectively of centre-half Jack O’Brien, who was partnered by Marcus Holness.
Lyness marshalled the goal behind them, while ahead, an attack-minded midfield saw skipper Jack Dyer and Alex MacDonald take the central berths, flanked by Ashley Hemmings on the left and Marcus Harness on the right.
Michael Symes and Dominic Knowles formed the strike partnership.
There was a chance apiece in the opening two minutes, the first after just 20 seconds, as Kemar Roofe skipped past Doyle and the ball fell to Joe Ward, whose shot was saved by Lyness.
Albion went straight up the other end and Dyer found Knowles, who nodded back to Hemmings, and his shot from distance hit the pole behind the goal.
Harness then fired wide after good play in linking up with Symes and Knowles.
Those players combined again when a neat cross by Harness saw Symes get between the Baggies defenders to flash a shot over the bar.
But the visiting Baggies had the better chances, and took the lead 21 minutes in as the Brewers failed to clear a corner and Nabi finished well past Lyness from close range.
It was almost 2-0 shortly afterwards, but Lyness made a good save after Alex Jones got past O’Brien and Holness to smash goalwards.
Albion then won their first corner, and from a good delivery by MacDonald, O’Brien stormed in to blast a shot over the bar.
Their first shot on target came from Knowles, who got on the end of Hemmings’ cross but nodded weakly at Rose when afforded a free header.
And the hosts went further behind five minutes from the break as a simple backpass from Richards took a slight bobble, and Lyness’ kick saw the ball fly backwards off his boot and trickle agonisingly into the goal.
The Brewers were marginally better after the break, certainly less error-prone, but though they forced a series of corners and tested the keeper on occasion, there was little to suggest a second-half fightback.
Symes saw a shot blocked, while at the other end Alex Jones flashed a header wide from Cameron Gayle’s cross.
Harness was more confident after the break and after a good run, his shot was just wide, before Hemmings landed a cross on the roof of the net from the other side.
MacDonald’s near-perfect delivery from one of many corners then almost crept in, with no-one able to get a touch.
Hemmings had another great chance when found unmarked at the far post, but his well-hit shot was blocked.
The Brewers saved their best chances for injury-time, and should have pulled one back when Hemmings picked out Harness, whose cut-back was scuffed goalwards not once, but twice, as Symes and Knowles both fluffed their lines in front of goal.
Substitute Mark Shelton, on after O’Brien failed to recover from an early knock, then forced a save after being found by Harness, and MacDonald burst through and saw his shot blocked.