FA Cup 5th Rnd replay:
West Brom 1 Middlesbrough 1 aet
Middlesbrough win 5-4 on penalties
Defeat on a penalty shoot-out for West Bromwich Albion, but a moral victory.
When Sherjill MacDonald blasted the ball over the crossbar, as the contest had reached sudden death, Albion's interest in the FA Cup ended as Middlesbrough clinched a sixth-round tie with Manchester United.
Middlesbrough, who had played brinkmanship in the previous round, when they defeated Bristol City on a penalty shoot-out, again left their fate in the lap of the gods. And again, this time in an enthralling fifth-round replay, they were rewarded for it.
Briefly, when Dong Gook Lee missed his penalty early in the shoot-out, there were expectations that Albion would win. But Neil Clement missed his kick, blasting the ball wildly over the crossbar and Albion were always playing catch-up. When Paul Robinson scored his penalty for Albion, he celebrated in much the same way as Stuart Pearce did for England against Spain during Euro 96.
Given the strength of the opposition, Albion's performance in the opening hour was perhaps their most inspiring of the season to date. They deservedly took the lead in the 25th minute through Darren Carter but briefly let their standards slip to allow Mark Viduka to score a fortuitous equaliser in the 62nd minute.
If extra time and penalties were not part of Albion's plan, the dismissal of Nathan Ellington, ostensibly for violent conduct in the 93rd minute, was the last thing that they needed. But they claimed a moral victory here long before the final whistle ushered in the bitter lottery of the shoot-out.
It would be churlish to blame MacDonald, for the pressure was unnatural, especially for a player so young and so inexperienced, but the truth was that Albion did enough in the normal 90 minutes to have won the match.
The absence of Diomansy Kamara, relegated to the substitutes' bench, suggested that Tony Mowbray had an eye on the Coca-Cola Championship match at home to Sunderland on Saturday. The 4-5-1 formation, with Ellington the lone man up front, told the same story.
But the tactics did not equate to caution from Albion; on the contrary. They began with purpose, stretching Middlesbrough with pace, accurate passing, and sheer passion.
Albion's early dominance gave Brad Jones, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper, the chance to show why Albion tried in January to sign him. After Jason Koumas flighted a corner to the far post, Jones tipped a powerful header by the impressive Paul McShane over the crossbar.
Middesbrough, with a team built around the spine of Jonathan Woodgate, George Boateng and Mark Viduka, struggled to maintain their composure as Koumas and Jonathan Greening dictated the pace of the early exchanges.
With Middlesbrough ruffled and Albion fluent, it was no surprise when, in the 25th minute, the home team opened the scoring with a superlative goal by Carter. With their movement off the ball intelligent, Albion were able to slice Middlesbrough open through the middle. Koumas fed Ellington who played the ball on for Carter to score with a low, left-footed shot from 22 yards.
Dean Kiely, the Albion goalkeeper, spent much of the first half as detached from the main spectacle as all of the 24,925 people sitting in the stands.
Gareth Southgate's disillusionment with his Middlesbrough team was such that he made a change at half-time, Lee Cattermole going off to be replaced by James Morrison. But Albion began the second half in much the same way as they had performed in the first.
Greening might have scored in the 48th minute but his shot from a tight angle was tipped over by Jones. It was good to watch and a timely reminder of how much Mowbray, himself a former Middlesbrough player, has revolutionised this Albion team.
But as the match reached the hour mark, there were signs that Albion were tiring and that Middlesbrough were becoming more confident.
When they equalised, however, in the 62nd minute, the goal owed more to luck than skill. Albion lost their concentration, allowing Viduka space inside the penalty area.
His shot did not seem good enough to trouble Kiely but the ball took a deflection and went into the opposite side of the goal, sending the Middlesbrough supporters into spasms of delight.
Mowbray's response was to make changes. The arrival of Kamara and Robert Koren was expected but the departure of Koumas, the best player on the pitch for an hour, was less easy to understand.
Whatever, Albion were able to reclaim the initiative and went close with long-range shots by Ellington and Neil Clement. Ellington was buoyed by the arrival of Kamara. Good goalkeeping by Kiely, who saved a fierce shot by Ayegbeni Yakubu and good defending by Robinson, who tackled Stewart Downing inside the penalty area, ensured that Middlesbrough did not take the lead.
And, in the final minute of normal time, with Albion looking nervous and The Hawthorns resembling a mental institution, Dong Gook Lee broke clear on goal for Middlesbrough but saw his low shot deflected wide.
Extra time was barely three minutes old when Ellington was sent off for fouling Stuart Parnaby. There is no doubt that Ellington's tackle was rash but it was not two-footed and, with the benefit of repeat showings, was not as bad as it first appeared.
Down to ten men, Albion showed their fortitude but one was left with the impression that a penalty shoot-out was their best hope. But nine minutes later, there was nothing but misery - especially for MacDonald.
Scorers: Carter (25), 1-0; Viduka (62), 1-1.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Kiely; McShane, Davies, Clement, Robinson; Gera (MacDonald, 87), Chaplow (Koren, 71), Koumas (Kamara, 71), Cater, Greening; Ellington. Substitutes: Daniels, Albrechtsen.
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Jones; Davies (Parnaby, 56), Woodgate, Pogatetz, Taylor; Cattermole (Morrison, 46), Boateng, Arca, Downing; Yakubu, Viduka (Dong Gook, 87). Substitutes: Turnbull, Euell.
Referee: Mike Riley (Leeds).
Bookings: Albion - McShane (foul), Carter (ungentlemanly conduct).
Sending-off: Albion - Ellington (violent conduct).