Riihilahti's last-gasp leveller hands 10-man Palace unlikely escape

West Bromwich Albion 2 - Crystal Palace 2
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The Independent Online

The win that an increasingly desperate Albion so badly needed to keep alive their Premiership survival chances danced tantalisingly before their eyes in a dramatic finish at The Hawthorns, in which both sides scored in stoppage time.

The win that an increasingly desperate Albion so badly needed to keep alive their Premiership survival chances danced tantalisingly before their eyes in a dramatic finish at The Hawthorns, in which both sides scored in stoppage time.

Trailing to Andy Johnson's goal after the early dismissal of defender Gonzalo Sorondo had given them a one-man advantage, Bryan Robson's side equalised through Kevin Campbell with eight minutes left before substitute Rob Earnshaw put them ahead in time added on after the 90 minutes had elapsed, only for Aki Riihilahti, the Palace substitute, to dash their hopes with seconds remaining.

With so much at stake, particularly for the home side, it was a match that demanded firm handling, perhaps an early stamp of authority from Mr Gallagher. What it did not need was the action the Banbury official took in dismissing Sorondo in the 12th minute.

Sorondo brought down Albion striker Geoff Horsfield in full flight but given that the defender was upsides, rather than behind his quarry, and that even Wayne Rooney might have been hard pressed to score from Horsfield's position, wide on the left, the judgement that Sorondo had committed a red-card offence was hard to fathom.

A dismayed Iain Dowie withdrew Dougie Freedman, sending on Darren Powell to fill Sorondo's slot, and from being the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation, Johnson became the lone striker in front of a midfield four.

West Brom's confidence was growing after a relatively prosperous run of only one defeat in five, and with Campbell and Horsfield restored in attack in preference to Kanu and Earnshaw, they had made the brighter beginning, an early effort from the dangerous Zoltan Gera clipping the top of the Palace bar.

With the numerical advantage, they should have been in front at half-time. Campbell squandered the clearest chance, heading over from close range after Darren Purse's cross had found him inadequately marked, while Gera went close a second time.

Even so, these seemed to be portents of a good night for Albion, until self-inflicted catastrophe struck two minutes into the second period in a moment that will give Purse sleepless nights. Faced with a clearance deep into home territory by the Palace goalkeeper, the Albion captain was well placed to head clear but instead ducked under the ball, presumably in the belief that Russell Hoult had it covered. Hoult did not and Johnson seized his chance, allowing the ball to bounce once at the edge of the box before heading it over Hoult for his 15th goal of the season.

Now it was a different game. Albion pushed harder for the goal they needed still more desperately but in doing so left themselves open to the counter from a Palace side who suddenly believed they could make light of having 10 men. Kiraly pushed a Paul Robinson shot over his bar and was lucky to gather the ball after Campbell had poked it against a post but at the other end only a good save by Hoult denied Palace a second goal from Fitz Hall's header.

Ultimately, Albion's quest for an equaliser wore them down and, with eight minutes left, after Powell's sliced attempted clearance from a Gera cross had been palmed away desperately by Kiraly, Campbell forced the ball over the line. When Earnshaw then put them ahead, chipping over Kiraly after Campbell had put him in behind the Palace back line, it seemed the victory they had so needed was theirs. But as Palace came back, a goalmouth scramble ended with Riihilahti's flick beating Hoult and crossing the line.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Hoult; Albrechtsen (Richardson, 70), Purse, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Scimeca, Wallwork, Greening; Campbell, Horsfield (Earnshaw, 54). Substitutes not used: Gaardsoe, Kanu, Kuszczak (gk).

Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Kiraly; Boyce, Hall, Sorondo, Borrowdale; Soares, Leigertwood, Hughes, Freedman (Powell 13, Riihilahti, 86), Routledge; Johnson. Substitutes not used: Speroni (gk), Andrews, Lakis.

Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire)

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