FA CUP, FIFTH ROUND
Coventry City 0
West Bromwich Albion 5
Four goals in 20 second-half minutes from a clinical West Bromwich Albion were enough to humiliate beleaguered Coventry City and dump them out of the FA Cup — but it was the manner in which the Sky Blues contributed to their own downfall that left a record Ricoh Arena attendance so crestfallen.
Two moments of madness were at the root cause: The first appeared to come from Michael Doyle, who was sent off three minutes after the break for stamping on Zoltan Gera, but replays suggest referee Mark Halsey was too harsh a judge.
There was no mistaking the idiocy and lack of judgment of the second crazy occasion, which came from goalkeeper Andy Marshall.
After receiving a back-pass from Marcus Hall, his nonchalant and unnecessarily risky return ball to the defender — rather than the mandatory hoof upfield — was miscued into the path of Roman Bednar who slotted past the hapless keeper for his 14th - and easiest - goal of the season.
Having lost the cheapest of goals and their captain — the fourth player in as many games to be sent off in this fixture in the past two seasons — the Sky Blues lost the energy, bite and leadership that had allowed them to look every bit the equal of Albion for the most part of the first half, albeit losing out 1-0.
It was not that Doyle was having a particularly good game but his boundless energy, work rate and constant cajoling were bringing much better out of the players around him.
Once he left, the Coventry cause fell apart and the team started to resemble one severely hampered by the uncertainty plaguing their boardroom.
From Albion’s perspective, the game could not have gone better.
They went ahead early, after some incessant pressure from the Baggies had yielded a Chris Brunt headed goal on 12 minutes.
The profligacy in front of goal that blighted their attempts to secure three Coca-Cola Championship points against Sheffield United at The Hawthorns on Tuesday was eradicated and Brunt’s strike, a brace for Bednar, and goals for Ishmael Miller and Gera completed the rout.
And the recent improvement of Albion’s defending, particularly from set-pieces, coincides with the return to the side of Leon Barnett.
Albion have not conceded a goal for 225 minutes since the young centre-back was introduced at half-time in the 2-1 loss at Barnsley. Perhaps it is not coincidence at all.
The young defender was a rock again on Saturday and in a physical game, Leon Best had more of a challenge on his hands than many of his team-mates.
Only the diminutive Michael Mifsud tested Albion on the floor; the Maltese international, who will surely leave the Sky Blues in the summer, offered glimpses of creativity with the odd neat turn, flick or trick without ever actually threatening Dean Kiely’s goal.
In contrast, Albion were much more cutting, especially in the opening exchanges which helped signal to the 28,163 people inside the Ricoh that the visitors were just as fired up for the cup tie.
Brunt’s early crossing from the left had been impressive but it was the threatening provider who turned poacher after Bednar had ghosted in behind the Coventry back four from a throw-in.
His cross from the by-line was met by the Northern Irishman, who ran in from deep to power past Marshall for his second goal of the season.
Coventry rallied, relying more on graft than craft to compete, but they did muster efforts from Best and Doyle which offered encouragement.
However, it could have been two before the break after Brunt’s in-swinging free-kick was headed against the bar by Coventry’s Michael Hughes.
That would have been harsh on City, whose unapologetically direct approach had caused the Baggies some difficulty.
But their resurgence faltered terribly after the break. With the home side down to ten men and after Marshall’s abomination on the hour, a rout seemed a possibility: Coventry were playing for their pride, the Baggies were playing to get on the scoresheet.
Bednar won a penalty off Arjan de Zeeuw when he flicked the ball inside him and the defender handled.
Despite attempts from his team-mates to prise the ball from him, the Czech striker held firm to despatch the spot-kick past Marshall.
He was then substituted for the last 20 minutes by Miller, who scored immediately.
A routine clearance from Carl Hoefkens was made to look like one of Ronaldinho’s better through balls when it sliced the Coventry back four open with alarming ease and the striker scored with a neat left-foot finish.
Gera, who had earlier been screaming and writhing in agony after the tackle that got Doyle sent off, recovered to beat Jay Tabb, then Hall and then Marshall with some neat work to cap off a fine day.
The result reflects how disparate these sides’ hopes are from now until the end of the season.
While Albion chase the Premier League and embark on a potentially riveting FA Cup run, Coventry will try to stave off the threat of League One.
Many of those who had not left the Ricoh by the final whistle stood to sing: "There’s only one Iain Dowie".
The Sky Blues desperately need someone to lift their spirits — and very soon.
Scorers: Brunt (12), Bednar (59, pen, 69), Miller (76), Gera (78).
COVENTRY CITY (4-4-2): Marshall, de Zeeuw (Birchill, 75), Hall, Ward, Osbourne; Tabb, Doyle, Simpson (Thornton, 75), Hughes; Best, Mifsud. Subs: Konstabtopoulos, Birchill, Gray, Borrowdale, Thornton.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-5-1): Kiely; Hoefkens, Barnett, Albrechtsen, Robinson; Brunt, Pele, Morrison, Gera (Beattie, 78), Teixeira (Do-Hoen, 73); Bednar (Miller, 70). Subs: Danek, Beattie, Do-Hoen, Miller, Phillips.
Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).
Booking: Albion — Barnett (foul).
Sending-off: Coventry — Doyle (serious foul play).
Albion man of the match: Leon Barnett — huge physical presence at the back set the right tone and example for Albion.