West Brom boss Alan Pardew confirmed Jonny Evans was stripped of the captaincy against Southampton because he wanted to “make a little bit of a statement.”
Evans was one of four senior players, along with Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill, who are alleged to have stolen a taxi during the club’s training camp in Barcelona this week.
The embarrassing episode sparked outrage among supporters when the news first broke late on Thursday night, with the trip brokered as a chance to refocus as Albion, bottom of the Premier League, prepared for one last push for top-flight survival.
Pardew, who admitted before the FA Cup clash that the incident has left him fuming, felt it necessary to send out a message that those involved deserved punishment but admitted he was torn between trying to win the tie.
“There was a problem in terms of selection because of the incident to go with my strongest team,” said Pardew after a 2-1 defeat.
“I decided to do that. I felt I needed to make a little bit of a statement about the events. I was far from happy over them and made Gareth (McAuley) captain today.”
Asked if the punishment would extend beyond Saturday’s game, Pardew replied: “I’ll have to have a look at that this week and see how we go.”
West Brom looked off the pace in the first half. Evans and Barry both started the game and both had their names booed by a small section of the home support as the teams were announced just before kick-off.
Goals at the beginning of each half from Wesley Hoedt and Dusan Tadic gave West Brom a mountain to climb but Salomon Rondon’s superb volley quickly got them back into the match.
Albion pushed hard for an equaliser and Pardew believes their second-half display shows he still has the support of the players and that he remains the right man for the job of preserving the club’s Premier League status.
West Brom are seven points from the safety of 17th place – a position currently occupied by their next opponents Huddersfield.
“Yeah, absolutely. I think the second half proved that,” said Pardew, who has won only three of his 17 games in charge in all competitions since taking over in November.
“It was difficult to go 2-0 down in the circumstances we’re under and I think anybody who was here today will see that was a proper fight and a proper effort.
“I hope I’m the right man because I’m an experienced manager. I’ve experienced this situation a few times before. Once I have been relegated, at Charlton, but I’ve got out of this situation before at Newcastle and Crystal Palace and I’m determined to get out of this one as well.”
Southampton also find themselves in the Premier League relegation zone and manager Mauricio Pellegrino was pleased to inflict a defeat on a fellow struggler.
“I think it helps everyone to increase our confidence and spirit and the belief of the team to improve,” he said.
“We have many important games in the next 100 days until the end and for us it is really important to improve.
“The most important thing now is to believe in our job and believe in our way from now until the end of the season in the remaining Premier League games and in the next round (of the FA Cup).”