West Brom 2 Manchester City 0
While a repeat of the Great Escape looks very unlikely for this season’s Baggies, I thought it would be nice to reflect on how the Albion side of 16 years ago did manage to achieve the impossible. In this series, I will provide a game by game account of the latter stages of that remarkable season.
When Gary Megson was sacked in November 2004, Albion were not in the relegation zone. A 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace left the Baggies in 16th place with eight points from their opening ten games, but the relationship between Megson and Albion chairman, Jeremy Peace, had deteriorated to such an extent that the man who had been largely responsible for returning the club to the top flight was shown the door.
Three weeks later, Robson was hailed as the returning hero but his opening game in charge ended in defeat to Middlesbrough, the match remember for Nwankwo Kanu incredible late miss.
Albion failed to win any of their next eleven Premier League matches such that, by the time a pre-Sheikh Mansour Manchester City visited the Hawthorns in January 2005, they were rock bottom of the table with just one win from their opening 23 matches.
An undeserved point at the Etihad a few weeks earlier, when Albion drew 1-1 despite not having a shot on goal, had offered a little hope and Robson had secured his first win in an FA Cup tie against Preston North End, but a 1-0 defeat at Fulham thanks to a last minute goal by the “Wardrobe”, the late Papa Bouba Diop, had left hopes fading.
The match at the Cottage had seen veteran striker, Kevin Campbell (pictured challenging City defender Sylvain Distain), make his Albion debut as Bryan Robson sought to strengthen the squad. Campbell would offer plenty of experience and plenty of spirit, but he would also chip in with goals and he grabbed his first just five minutes into his home debut sweeping the ball home from Martin Albrechtsen’s cross.
It was the first time that the Baggies had been ahead in a home league game since their last victory, a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers at the beginning of October.
The Hawthorns crowd responded, a boost that this season’s team are missing, and Albion went looking for the second goal to secure the points. They created chances, particularly in the second half, but they couldn’t find it with David James making one excellent save from a Jonathan Greening volley.
Finally though, that crucial second goal came with nine minutes left, but from an unlikely source. Greening crossed from the left to Geoff Horsfield at the far post and the Horse nodded it down into the centre and who was running in from midfield but Ronnie Wallwork. He nodded the ball past James in the City goal, the points were secure and Bryan Robson had his first league win as Baggies’ boss.
Survival still looked a long way off – after all, no Premier League side had been bottom at Christmas and survived – but that first win was massive.
It was a lot closer at this stage than in this campaign with the Baggies just five points off 17th place, and it was the team currently in that spot, Iain Dowie’s Crystal Palace, who were the next visitors to the Hawthorns for the next league game at the beginning of February.
Premier League Table – 22nd January 2005
If you cannot see the table, click here.