After keeping their hopes alive with a point at Old Trafford, Albion went into the last game of the 2004/05 season bottom of the table, but with survival hopes still alive.
A lot of things would need to happen for the miracle to happen, but it could be summed up fairly easily – the Baggies had to win their game and hope that none of their relegation rivals did.
West Brom 2 Portsmouth 0
For some reason, Albion fans were confident that the team would do the business against Portsmouth, despite the fact that they were on a run of six games without a win since they beat Everton 1-0 six weeks earlier. It was a miracle that the Baggies were still in with a shout given that set of results.
The twist in the tale was that Albion’s opponents that day were Portsmouth, whose arch rivals, Southampton, were one of the other three teams in danger of relegation. That meant that home and away fans were as one in hoping for a Baggies victory – it made for a unique atmosphere.
With the results of four different games important, there were plenty of Albion fans, myself included, with their attention partly on the action on the pitch, and partly on the news coming through on transistor radios – these were the days before smart phones!
The early news was mixed, Norwich went behind at Fulham but Southampton took an early lead in their home game with Manchester United. On the pitch, Earnshaw should have done better with a cross from Richardson with the Welshman claiming he was being pulled back, while Campbell forced a good save from Pompey ‘keeper, Jamie Ashdown, but the goal wouldn’t come.
By half time, however, it was looking good for the Baggies everywhere but at the Hawthorns. Fulham were two down, United had drawn level at St Mary’s and Crystal Palace were a goal down at Charlton Athletic. At the Shrine, however, it remained goalless as the Baggies failed to find the all important breakthrough.
Ten minutes into the second half and Fulham were 3-0 down and seemingly out of contention. Geoff Horsfield apparently told Robson to send him on as he was sure he would score. The gaffer obliged in the 58th minute with Jonathan Greening to man to make way leaving the Baggies with three strikers on the pitch.
And what a substitution it was. Gera’s cross flicked off the head of a Portsmouth defender and fell to the Horse, and he volleyed it home with his first touch to send the Hawthorns wild with celebration. At almost the same moment, Dougie Freedman levelled for Palace at Charlton but, as things stood, the Baggies were safe.
As the Baggies probed for a second to make sure, the news came through that Ruud van Nistelrooy had put United ahead at Southampton before the news that all Albion fans dreaded – penalty to Crystal Palace converted, as usual, by Andy Johnston.
Twenty minutes to go and it was now out of the Baggies’ hands. A few minutes later, Kieran Richardson fired home to make it 2-0 to Albion, but the cheers were muted as it meant little at that stage.
Less than ten minutes later, however, cheers began to ripple around the Hawthorns as the news we all wanted to hear filtered through. Jonathan Fortune, a name that will be indelibly linked with that day in the minds of Albion fans, had headed in an equaliser for Charlton with eight minutes to go.
And then we waited. The game at the Hawthorns drifted to a conclusion and the only goal updates were from Craven Cottage where Norwich City were taking a pasting. That game would finish 6-0 to the Cottagers and the Saints were also definitely down as United held on to win 2-1.
The full time whistle went at the Hawthorns and still we waited.
And then, the cheers began again – full time at the Valley – Albion were safe!
The fans poured onto the pitch to celebrate what remains the most incredible and dramatic escape from Premier League relegation. It was an incredible feat but, in my eyes, the club’s failure to capitalise on it the following season does taint it a little.
Nonetheless, it is something that will live long in the memories of the Baggies faithful that were there to witness it, and I hope you have enjoyed this series of articles, albeit that this season’s team could not mirror their counterparts from 16 years ago.
Final Premier League Table – 15th May 2005
If you cannot see the table, click here.