After losing at home to Arsenal on Monday 2nd May 2005, Albion’s survival hopes hung by a thread by given that their penultimate game was at the home of third-placed Manchester United. To put the date into footballing context, on the day following that home defeat, Liverpool beat Chelsea by virtue of the Luis Garcia “ghost goal” to reach the Champions League final.
On the morning of Saturday 7th May, the bottom four of the Premier League were separated by just one point.
Manchester United 1 West Brom 1
We travelled to Manchester more in hope than expectation and, with the game at Old Trafford not kicking off until tea time, there was the chance that Albion could be all but relegated before kick off. Indeed, when we left the pub to walk to the stadium, it looked like that would indeed be the case. Bottom-placed Norwich City were beating Birmingham City 1-0 and Crystal Palace were 2-1 up against Southampton. That would have put Palace on 34 points, four points ahead of Albion with a vastly superior goal difference leaving the Baggies needing to win their last two games to have any hope of staying up.
However, as we trudged towards Old Trafford, the news filtered through on transistor radios (yes, smart phones weren’t around then) that Danny Higginbotham had scored an injury time equaliser for the Saints meaning that a point at Old Trafford could given Albion a chance on the final day. In that euphoric moment, that the Baggies had only earned one point away to United since the famous 5-3 win more than a quarter of a century earlier was forgotten – suddenly, the Great Escape was on.
Hopes were further raised when team news from Old Trafford saw Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney all absent from Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting line up. That seemed to matter little, however, as United dominated the first half. Inside the first 20 minutes, Russell Hoult suffered a groin injury and when Giggs took a quick free kick leaving, the Albion stopper was unable to get across the goal and the hosts were ahead. Hoult was replaced by Tomasz Kuszczak who would then produce a performance that would ultimately earn him a move to Old Trafford.
The “Pole in Goal” produce some excellent saves from Quinton Fortune and Cristiano Ronaldo before Rio Ferdinand missed a golden chance just before half time, meaning that Albion were somehow just one goal behind at the break.
United started the second half as they ended the first and Kuazczak was called into action once again to deny Kléberson before the Brazilian fired over when he really should have scored.
As the hour mark approached, Roy Carroll saved from Kevin Campbell as Albion produced their first real chance of the game. The defining moment of the match came a few minutes later.
Geoff Horsfield ran through onto a ball over the top from Campbell and, with John O’Shea grappling with his arm on Horsfield’s shoulder, the Baggies front man went down and referee, Mark Halsey, pointed to the spot. There were furious protests from the United players, but Earnshaw took the spot kick and scored easily to send the packed away enclosure into raptures.
Ferguson reacted by bringing on Rooney, Scholes and Saha with the England midfielder coming close to a winner when he struck the post having been fed a short free kick from Giggs. Shortly afterwards, Rooney’s effort direct from a similarly placed free kick was superbly saved by Kuszczak and somehow Albion held out for a vital point.
It meant that a win for Albion on the final day could be enough to save them and, as an omen, for the previous two rounds, the club bottom of the table at the beginning of the weekend ended it in 17th. Once more and the Baggies would be safe.
Premier League Table – 7th May 2005
If you cannot see the table, click here.