By Nik Brumsack
Two first-half goals paved the way for West Bromwich Albion to beat Arsenal Under-21s on a crisp afternoon at London Colney.
Kemar Roofe and Liam O’Neil gave the visitors a two-goal lead by the break, before Kris Olsson pulled one back just after the hour mark with a delightful free kick.
And despite late pressure, West Brom held out to become the second team, after West Ham United, to do the double over the under-21s this season.
Terry Burton, perhaps with Monday’s FA Youth Cup third-round tie against Newcastle in mind, made six changes from the side that beat Norwich on Monday night.
James Shea started in goal, while Elton Monteiro partnered Martin Angha in central defence. Isaac Hayden returned from suspension in central midfield, where he was partnered by Jon Toral and Olsson. Elsewhere, Chuba Akpom continued to spearhead the attack.
Burton was forced into a defensive reshuffle early on after Ignasi Miquel was clattered in an aerial duel and replaced by Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill.
Just seconds after the change, the visitors were presented with the first chance of the game. Monteiro was caught in possession by Yassine El Ghanassy, who charged through on goal before chipping an effort just wide.
West Brom were starting to control the game and they took the lead after 18 minutes. There looked to be little danger when Bradley Garmston sent in a cross, but Shea spilled it and the ball fell invitingly for Roofe, who tapped home.
After initially struggling to get back into the game following the setback, Arsenal rallied and both Jernade Meade and Hayden saw efforts whistle over from distance.
Burton’s side, despite being full of endeavour, were struggling to create any clear-cut chances, with the imposing figure of Craig Dawson leading a strong West Brom defensive unit.
Arsenal were left further adrift after 38 minutes. A corner was not properly cleared, and when the ball was fired back across goal, an unmarked O’Neil headed beyond a stranded Shea.
The home side started the second half with a renewed sense of vigour, and it came as no surprise when they halved the deficit just after the hour. Toral was fouled 25 yards from goal and the resulting free kick was expertly curled into the top corner by Olsson.
Burton’s side were on top now, and were only denied a second goal when Meade crashed an effort off the bar before substitute Zak Ansah volleyed the rebound over.
Still, the attacks kept coming and Meade stung Lewis’ fingertips before Ansah’s header looked destined for the net until it was cleared off the line.
Ansah’s introduction had helped galvanise Arsenal, with the 18-year-old’s incisive movement causing all manner of problems to the visitors’ backline. He worked a yard of space before shooting just over after 77 minutes, before Nigel Neita’s lofted effort had to be batted away by Lewis just five minutes from time.
- Bellerin Yellow Card
- Miquel (C) 11
- Toral 84
- Olsson Goal!
- Hayden Yellow Card
- Akpom 57
- Ormonde-Ottewill 11
- Mugabo 84
- Ansah 57
West Brom U21
- Dawson (C)
- Roofe Goal!
- O'Neil Goal! Yellow Card
- Ghanassy 72
- Brown 72