After half an hour of almost nothing, a football match sprang to life at the Hawthorns yesterday, and for that substitute Saido Berahino must take a large slice of the credit.
There were 31 minutes on the clock when Steve Clarke, the West Bromwich Albion manager, took the adventurous decision to send on Berahino for the injured right-back Billy Jones and switch winger Morgan Amalfitano to full-back, and he was rewarded with a fine goal from the 20-year-old Burundi-born forward shortly before half-time.
“He just said to make sure that I affect the game,” said Berahino of his manager’s instructions, and he did just that. A seven-man move began with Jonas Olsson taking the ball off Marouane Chamakh deep inside Albion territory and ended with Stéphane Sessègnon squaring a pass to Berahino, who finished impressively. His first touch with his right foot teed the ball up and his second with his left sent it flying into the far corner of Julian Speroni’s goal.
It was Berahino’s sixth strike for Albion already in a season in which he has hit a winning goal at Old Trafford, as well as four more for England’s Under-21s, and the academy product – who currently earns around £850 a week – is expected to be rewarded with a new long-term deal shortly. “We’re in negotiations, and if I was the club I would get it done as soon as possible,” said Clarke.
This was bottom club Palace’s seventh straight loss and came in their second game under caretaker-manager Keith Millen, but they are not expected to announce a replacement for Ian Holloway until the international break. “The chairman is not going to rush into it – he needs to appoint the right person, but the sooner the better,” said Millen, who has been charged with planning for next Saturday’s trip to Everton.
Millen was right to point to the “small margins” that decided yesterday’s outcome. Shortly before his early withdrawal with a rib injury, Adlène Guedioura had a near-post effort saved by Albion’s goalkeeper, Boaz Myhill, while Palace came close to an equaliser around the hour when Myhill kept out Jason Puncheon’s deflected shot and Mile Jedinak sent a free header wide from Jerome Thomas’s corner.
Although Dean Moxey’s goal-saving tackle foiled Shane Long after a brilliant angled run by Berahino, Palace paid for those misses when Gareth McAuley beat Jedinak to Amalfitano’s corner and powered in the header that sealed their fate.
West Bromwich (4-2-3-1): Myhill; Jones (Berahino, 31), McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Mulumbu, Morrison (Yacob, 73); Amalfitano, Sessègnon (Vydra, 86), Brunt; Long.
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Moxey; Bannan (Bolasie, 65), Dikgacoi (Gayle, 79), Jedinak, Thomas; Guedioura (Puncheon, 22); Chamakh.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.
Man of the match: Berahino (West Bromwich)
Match rating: 6/10