Football: Taylor the trump card

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West Bromwich Albion. . .1

Wycombe Wanderers. . . . 0

IT WAS a tribute to the quality of Wycombe's football, and a testament to Albion's relief, that the Hawthorns' biggest crowd of the season gave the Vauxhall Conference leaders a standing ovation as they took their leave of the FA Cup last night.

The 17,640 spectators had lived on their nerves for 81 minutes before Bob Taylor's goal, which followed a mistake by Steve Guppy, earned Ossie Ardiles's Second Division promotion hopefuls a third- round home tie against West Ham. Even then, Wycombe had chances to send the replay in to extra time.

Until Taylor pounced, the spectre of Woking loomed large for Albion and their followers; two years ago, the Surrey part-timers' victory had cost Brian Talbot his manager's job. While Ardiles's tenure is more secure, Wycombe's swift counter-attacking often stirred painful memories.

During an even first half, Keith Scott's shot from 14 yards shaved Albion's far post, and Glyn Creaser had a headed 'goal' disallowed for pushing. Indeed, it would have been slightly against the run of play if Gary Strodder's volley had gone in instead of flashing narrowly wide.

With Taylor well-policed by the West Bromwich-born Andy Kerr, it was left to Albion's central defenders to pose the threat to Paul Hyde's goal. Strodder headed against the underside of the bar four minutes from half-time, and Paul Raven thumped a 30-yarder just over soon after the interval.

Wycombe, however, traded blow for blow, and 60 seconds later Raven was clearing a header by the oustanding Steve Thompson from beneath his own bar. It was not until the final 15 minutes that Albion were able to impose their marginal superiority over tiring opponents.

The crucial moment arrived when Taylor dispossessed Guppy on the edge of the area. Before Wycombe's massed defence could recover, the former Bristol City striker whipped a fine shot low to Hyde's right for his 15th goal of the season.

Guppy almost atoned three minutes from time, only for a colleague to deflect Simon Hutchinson's cross beyond him at the far post. Kerr then had to clear off the line from Carl Heggs while Hyde saved well from Taylor, though a second home goal would have been a travesty.

Martin O'Neill, the Wycombe manager, said: 'After all my years in football I'm still surprised to lose any game in which my team has played so well. I was even thinking ahead to how we'd play West Ham, and then we ruined it all by giving away a bad goal.' Football League status, a virtual certainty, should ease the disappointment in time.

West Bromwich Albion: Naylor; Reid, Lilwall, Bradley, Raven, Strodder, Donovan, Hamilton, Taylor, McNally, Robson (Heggs, 73). Substitute not used: Ampadu.

Wycombe Wanderers: Hyde; Cousins, Crossley, Kerr, Creaser, Thompson, Carroll, Buckle (Hutchinson, 60), Stapleton, Scott, Guppy. Substitute not used: Green.

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).