Newcastle United are into the FA Cup quarter final after hanging on to secure a 3-2 win against West Brom at The Hawthorns.
Two goals from Miguel Almiron and a first for the club from Valentino Lazaro looked to have secured an easy victory for the visitors but the Baggies battled back and two late goals made it nervy for the Premier League outfit.
With the hosts making nine changes and Steve Bruce switching six players, it was hard to envisage how the game would go.
However, it became apparent very quickly that Albion weren’t really at it from the off. The experienced Gareth Barry was caught in possession after just two minutes and Nabil Bentaleb had a clear run into the area but he dithered and couldn’t find Almiron who was quickly making ground.
The Baggies responded initially, with Kyle Edwards forcing Karl Darlow into a save but the Magpies quickly got a grip of things.
Slaven Bilic’s side were struggling to deal with the physicality and energy of a Newcastle side that surprisingly looked a threat every time they attacked, with the front four of Allan Saint-Maximin, Lazaro, Almiron and Joelinton constantly menacing.
The latter had the beating of Dara O’Shea on a few occasions and he nearly scored a memorable goal after impressively beating the Irishman down the left flank before cutting in and firing at Jonathan Bond.
The Brazilian’s stats in the top-flight are horrendous but he has played his part in helping Newcastle progress in the FA Cup and he was influential throughout the first half.
Shortly after, his header found Sean Longstaff in the box but he wastefully shot over.
As the visitors controlled play, Saint-Maximin was next to be denied – this time by the woodwork. The enigmatic Frenchman picked the ball up around 30 yards from goal before letting fly with a magnificent effort that left Bond with no chance but it crashed off the post.
Albion, who have been a joy to watch in the Championship, were struggling to build play but a good combination created a chance for the otherwise ineffective Charlie Austin who shot straight at Darlow and it would be a costly miss.
That’s because Almiron would give Newcastle the lead minutes later, although it was Saint-Maximin who deserved most of the credit.
As probably only he could, the 22-year-old powerfully held off a few challenges, before running straight at the Albion back four and releasing a perfect through ball that put the Paraguayan in and he calmly finished with his left foot.
There was worse to come for the Baggies though as Newcastle grabbed the second goal that their dominance warranted, although it was entirely avoidable.
A ball from Lazaro was inexplicably not cleared by two Albion players and rolled to Joelinton who back heeled into the box where Almiron was running in to smash home.
It was a forgettable 45 minutes from the Championship leaders and even with Swansea on Saturday as the priority, Bilic must have been considering changes, with the ageing midfield pairing of Chris Brunt and Gareth Barry particularly poor.
He didn’t though and it may have been a decision he regretted within two minutes of the restart as those Newcastle attacking players combined to punish Albion again.
Almiron found himself in plenty of space down the right flank and he expertly picked out the unmarked Saint-Maximin and his teasing ball across the face of goal was pushed onto Lazaro by Bond and it trickled over the line to give the visitors a healthy lead.
In fairness to Bilic’s men, they rallied after that, as Matt Phillips had a looping effort cleared off the line.
He went close again as Filip Krovinovic, who replaced Barry after the third, fired across goal but the wide man couldn’t get enough contact on and it flew wide. The Croatian international had changed the game in Albion’s favour and they continued to press, with Edwards hitting the bar but they would soon get the goal their play merited.
Substitute Kenneth Zohore failed to head home from a teasing delivery initially but the ball was kept alive by Edwards and the target man knocked it back for Phillips to score in the 74th minute.
For the first time on the night the raucous 5,000 travelling fans were drowned out by the home support as Albion sensed there was something in this for them.
Minutes later Krovinovic’s stinging effort was palmed away and Zohore just couldn’t control the rebound which would have left him with a simple chance.
A frantic finish ensued and Zohore had a good chance when played through but his shot was diverted over from Fabian Schar.
The ex-Cardiff City man would get on the scoresheet in stoppage time though after a remarkable run from Edwards that saw him skip past a few challenges before putting it on a plate for the striker.
Even with around a minute left, Newcastle had some defending to do and Anthony Taylor had to deny a soft penalty appeal from the hosts but Bruce’s men got the job done to eliminate a spirited Albion side.