CHAMPIONSHIP: West Bromwich Albion 1 Crystal Palace 1
This was a swift reminder to an FA Cup hungover West Bromwich Albion about what awaits them in the Coca-Cola Championship between now and the end of the season.
A well-organised and hustling Crystal Palace side took a well-deserved point from the Hawthorns, not because they created a wealth of chances - although they created a few - but because they were adept at preventing the Baggies from manufacturing the wealth of golden opportunities they normally muster at home.
Manager Tony Mowbray gave no starting place to Roman Bednar, instead keeping faith with Sunday's hat-trick hero Ishmael Miller, while he returned Kevin Phillips to the starting line up.
A scrappy and largely uneventful first half saw Albion emerge as the side with genuine ambitions to win the game. In the first ten minutes a neat interchange between Zoltan Gera and Phillips on the edge of the visitors' box resulted in the striker firing wide but the move, at least, symbolised intent. So did the work rate of Miller, who flashed a cross agonisingly across the six-yard box minutes later.
This match was never going to be a classic as Palace flooded the midfield with bodies in order to break up play and unashamedly used winger Victor Moses as their outlet while he frequently tried to use his pace to take Jared Hodgkiss on the outside.
When he did run at the young full-back, he easily had the beating of him; at times, it seemed that milk would have turned quicker than the defender.
Fortunately for Albion Leon Barnett, who was again superb at the heart of the defence, did have the pace to match the speedy Moses and was always on hand to do the mopping up, as was the industrious Jonathan Greening.
The game came to life on the half-hour mark, thanks to the supreme finishing skills of Phillips. A perfectly weighted and precise pass from Paul Robinson was fed into the striker who had found space just outside the box; two sublime touches of the ball later, it was in the net for his 200th career goal.
The first touch took the veteran striker away from the back-tracking Mark Hudson, the second nonchalantly clipped the ball over the out-rushing goalkeeper Julian Speroni.
There was a blow for the home side when midfielder Chris Brunt was carried off five minutes before the half-time break with what looked like a hamstring injury. He was replaced by James Morrison, who saw out a rather tepid first half and was then himself replaced - injured - by Korean Do-Heon Kim, which shifted Greening out to the left side of midfield for the second half.
Judging by how long it took Palace to emerge after the break, one suspects the irascible Neil Warnock had been offering some
rather choice words for his side - and so he
should: They had been dreadful.
But with Palace unable to hunker down and scavenge the point they clearly craved, they showed some willing after the break and, as a result, the game opened up and the visitors became more effective.
While it was a surprise that Palace equalised, it was perhaps not such a surprise that it was 17-year-old England Youth player Moses who scored it, his first of the season. If he cuts out the diving, he will be one to watch for the future.
The ball was crossed in by Clint Hill from the left and Moses latched onto Jamie Scowcroft's knock down to fire home from six yards. It was the Eagles' first real chance of the game and it was the youngster's last notable involvement before being substituted to a chorus of boos. He was replaced by another teenage flier from the Palace factory line in Tom Scannell.
With just over 20 minutes to go and with Albion in dire need of some Premier League quality and adventure, ex-Aston Villa man Luke Moore replaced Gera and they adopted a 4-3-3 look.
At this stage, the hosts looked uncharacteristically devoid of ideas and stagnant - one attempt from Phillips, from 40 yards out, nearly hit the corner flag and that was as close as the home side had come in 25 second-half minutes.
Miller had a go from similar range five minutes later and at least troubled the goal-keeper. Do-Heon was next to attempt to find the target, his fierce left-foot dipping strike landing awkwardly in front of Speroni, who fumbled before re-gathering.
It sparked the crowd and his team-mates into a bit of life, temporarily. Having settled, DoHeon was showing real signs of promise; he is full of deft touches, cute passes and has ghost-like movement: At times, he just seemed to pop up in acres of open space before popping back, seemingly undetected.
It was he who fed Miller inside the box on 80 minutes, but the striker fired his shot just over from a tight angle. But not even his subtlety and poise could prise open a resilient Palace rear-guard which harried, hustled and harassed the Baggies in a disappointing last ten minutes. n Stephen McPhail scored his first goal since October to keep Cardiff's faint Coca-Cola Championship play-off hopes alive and put the skids on Hull's promotion charge.
McPhail's strike in the second minute ended a four-and-a-half-game goal drought in the league for the Bluebirds, who are now up to
12th in the table and eight points behind Hull who still occupy sixth place. The former Leeds United trainee crashed a close-range shot in off the underside of the bar after Steven Thompson had headed the ball into his path.
It was the first Championship goal Cardiff had scored since Gavin Rae's 45th-minute effort in the 2-1 home defeat to Norwich on February 9.
Scorers: Phillips (30) 1-0; Moses (55) 1-1.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2) Kiely; Robinson, Barnett, Albrechtsen, Hodgkiss; Brunt (Morrison 40), Greening, Koren, Gera (Moore 68); Miller, Phillips. Subs: Bednar, Do-Heon, Moore, Martis, Morrison.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-5-1): Speroni; Lawrence, Hudson, Fonte, Hill; Soares (Morrison 45), Derry, Fletcher, Watson (Hughes 88), Moses (Scannell 62); Scowcroft. Subs: Morrison, Hills, Scannell, Robinson, Hughes.
Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire)