On Friday 5th April 2002, Steve Claridge became the toast of Baggies fans has his penalty for Millwall at the New Den condemned Wolves to yet another defeat and Albion now had automatic promotion in their own hands.
Win all their games and the Baggies were promoted, and the first target was Rotherham United who travelled to the Hawthorns for a televised fixture two days later.
Before the match, the Millers were one of four teams on 47 points just two points above the relegation zone, so Albion were expected to record a sixth successive victory.
It was all going to plan just after the half hour when Derek McInnes beat a man in midfield and slid the ball into Bob Taylor. He cut inside and fired the ball into the bottom right corner of the net to record his sixth goal of the season.
The visitors had other ideas and, just after half time, Darren Byfield poked in an equaliser and Chris Sedgwick came close to putting Rotherham ahead when he struck the post.
The moment for which the game will be remembered, however, was at the other end of the field. Neil Clement’s corner was knocked on by Darren Moore and the Portuguese sensation, Jordão, acrobatically forced the ball goalwards and over the line before Sedgwick could clear. Appeals from the Portuguese and the fans behind the Brummie Road goal went unheard as linesman and referee were unmoved. Television pictures showed that the ball was a good yard or two over the line.
Albion had a penalty claim turned down when Dobie went down in the box, but they failed to find the winner and the game finished 1-1. While it ultimately didn’t cost the Baggies, that point would ultimately keep Rotherham United in Division One at the expense of Crewe Alexandra.
While the point was not ideal, it moved Albion ahead of Wolves into second place for the first time and the equation remained the same – win their last two games and the Baggies would be back in the top flight for the first time in 26 years.
|Division One Promotion Battle – 7th April 2002|