It was Christmas 2004, and Chelsea had started their domination of English football. Middlesbrough and Everton were both in the top five, Man City were just an average team at the time and West Brom were at the bottom of the Premier League with just 10 points. Looking doomed to relegation, a great escape was looking far from likely. They only had one win and seven draws after 19 matches. The teams above them had started to build a gap over the West Midlands club. But what happened over the next few months will stay in the memories of Baggies fans forever.
The 2017/2018 season saw West Brom relegated for the first time since 2009. So after yo-yo-ing between the Premier League and the Championship, West Brom did eventually establish themselves as a Premier League team. However, back to 2004.
Poor Start Sees Megson Get The Boot
In all fairness to West Brom, despite the terrible start to the season, they didn’t actually have a bad squad. They were definitely short in areas but with Kanu and Earnshaw up front, the least you’d have expected is a few goals between them. Whereas Earnshaw impressed with 11 Premier League goals that campaign, everyone else struggled to get off the mark. Kanu only managed two, while Kevin Campbell and Geoff Horsefield both hit three.
The Baggies were struggling to get goals and to get points on the board. Gary Megson was in his fifth season at the Hawthorns, having taken them up twice from the Championship and survived one relegation already. It wasn’t a great start to the season, and the board had seen the signs early on. Megson was relieved of his duties after a 3-0 thrashing from Crystal Palace at the end of October.
Robson Takes The Helm
Bryan Robson was hired to get West Brom’s season back on track and began his reign in November, but a poor start took them through a long hard winter with heavy defeats along the way. They sat bottom of the table on Christmas Day. No team had survived relegation after sitting bottom of the league on this date since its rebrand in 1992. So not surprisingly they were being written off by all the pundits, with many expecting them to be relegated by the start of April.
Premier League Table 25 December 2004
January – A Better Start To The Year
It was 2 months before his first win came – a 2-0 third-round FA Cup win over Preston. His first league win came a couple of weeks later against Man City in another 2-0 win. On the same day, relegation rivals Southampton beat Liverpool 2-1, Crystal Palace beat Spurs 3-1 and Norwich came back from 4-1 down to Middlesbrough to draw 4-4 with a stoppage-time goal. Important points for all teams and the battle was still well and truly on.
With his first League win under his belt, Robson was determined to keep West Brom up. Standing five points from safety and some way behind on goal difference, he knew it was a difficult but not impossible task. The January window saw the addition off Kieran Richardson on loan from Manchester United as well as the purchases of Richard Chaplow for £1.5m and Kevin Campbell on a free from Burnley and Everton respectively.
February – A Month Of Heartbreak
With the window slamming shut, February came around with matchday 25 and midweek games. West Brom hosted Crystal Palace in a crucial six-pointer. The game was in deadlock until Andy Johnson broke it two minutes into the second half. Palace had been down to 10 men since the 12th minute, but West Brom failed to capitalise.
In the 82nd minute, Kevin Campbell got his second goal in two games. The veteran was looking like an important signing for the club. The Baggies pushed on and in the 91st minute, Earnshaw put them 2-1 ahead. A win would have put them 18th and one point off 17th placed Palace. But in the 93rd minute, a goal-line scramble saw Palace equalise with Aki Riihilahti poking it over the line.
A deflated West Brom had been robbed of two points at the death. They went into another six-pointer just four days later and lost 3-2 to Norwich having lead 2-1. After a break from the league for the FA Cup, they ground out a 0-0 draw against Southampton. After three big opportunities to make their push for survival they were still seven points and many goals away from safety, out of the FA Cup and bottom of the table.
March – The Only Way Is Up
The end of the season was in sight. West Brom needed to start getting points on the board. They opened March with a local derby against Birmingham and needed to win to stand any chance of survival. Birmingham had already beaten the Baggies 4-0 earlier in the season. It was a Super Sunday showing but with the game 0-0 at half-time it wasn’t living up to expectation.
Whatever Bryan Robson said to his players at half-time worked. Neil Clement put the home side ahead eight minutes into the second half before Kevin Campbell doubled the lead after the hour mark. The Baggies held on for their first win since the end of January. The victory was even sweeter with it being against one of their Midlands rivals. They were off the bottom of the table for the first time since the middle of November. They could finally start to believe.
After a 1-0 loss to Chelsea in a catch-up game due to FA Cup fixture congestion, West Brom faced Charlton in their final game in March.
The Best Substitute Ever!
The Baggies headed to the Valley to face a Charlton side who were seventh in the league but slipping in form. West Brom took advantage in probably their best performance of the season.
Geoff Horsfield got the Baggies off the mark after nine minutes, only for Jonatan Johansson to equalise for the home side midway through the first half. Only a few moments later, the game heated up when Charlton’s Talal El Karkouri went in with a high two-footed tackle on Zoltan Gera. The referee had no option but to send him off, reducing Charlton to 10 men with over an hour of play remaining. Half-time loomed and it was still 1-1. Bryan Robson had a card up his sleeve though.
Shortly after the hour mark, Bryan Robson probably made the most important substitution of the season. Up stepped Robert Earnshaw to replace Kieran Richardson as the Baggies shuffled around to a 4-3-3 formation. He made a quick impact when he put them 2-1 up with a header from six yards, directing it into the corner and finishing it off in typical Earnshaw style with a front flip in front of the travelling fans. With five minutes remaining, he beat the defensive line again and added a second before completing his hat-trick in the 89th-minute, making it West Brom’s first and only away win of the season.
The Final Stretch
By the start of April, it was Norwich who were looking doomed, but after a fantastic month for the Canaries with wins against Man Utd, Newcastle and Charlton, the bottom four was once again turned on its head. West Brom only managed three draws from five games. Southampton managed a draw and a 4-3 win against relegation rivals Norwich whilst Palace also picked up four points.
Premier League table 4 April 2005 (two games to go)
Game week 37
Southampton vs Palace
Norwich vs Birmingham
Manchester United vs West Brom
Regardless of what happened, it was going to be down to the last game, but a win for either Palace or Southampton and defeat for both West Brom and Norwich would have meant relegation for the latter pair.
Ryan Giggs put Man Utd 1-0 up against West Brom. Palace went 1-0 up against Southampton but an immediate response from Peter Crouch levelled things up. Then, on the stroke of half-time at Carrow Road, Dean Ashton put the Canaries ahead. Once again the table was moving around. Every goal mattered, and West Brom needed one more than ever.
It came in the second half when Baggies hero Robbie Earnshaw slotted home a penalty to level the game up. Down at Selhurst Park, the game was getting very heated. Gonzalo Sorondo and Peter Crouch had both seen red before Nicola Ventola put Palace 2-1 up. The South London club could almost see the finish line. If they could hold out, it would all be in their hands come the final game, but Danny Higginbotham had other plans.
With a last-gasp goal at the death of the match, the game was level again. The Southampton fans went wild; it was going to the final day and safety was anyone’s for the taking. Norwich were the only team to hold their fate in their own hands, and after recent form, they were fancied for survival. However, it was all about turning up on the final day.
Premier League table 9 April 2005 (one game to go)
Ninety Minutes To Make A Difference
West Brom vs Portsmouth
Fulham vs Norwich
Charlton Vs Crystal Palace
Southampton vs Manchester United
It was labelled Survival Sunday. The league title had already been decided with Chelsea leading by 11 points, so all eyes were on the bottom four. West Brom were the only team that statistically needed to win, due to Norwich’s goal difference. Palace or Southampton could rely on a draw, as long as results went their way.
It was a sunny spring day right across the country: a perfect day for a celebration. Ten minutes in, a John O’Shea own goal put Southampton ahead whilst Norwich went 1-0 down. In the space of 60 seconds, two goals changed the whole atmosphere, but it wasn’t long before a Manchester United goal levelled the game up.
Half-an-hour in and Charlton went 1-0 up, giving the Eagles some catching up to do. West Brom sat patiently waiting for their moment. Fulham went 2-0 up against Norwich, and the team that held their fate in their hands were letting it slip.
Half-time came and the teams only had 45 minutes to change the outcome. As it stood, Southampton would survive. The travelling Pompey fans at the Hawthorns certainly didn’t want that.
West Brom 0-0 Portsmouth
Fulham 2-0 Norwich
Charlton 1-0 Crystal Palace
Southampton 1-1 Manchester United
The Last Half
The second half kicked off with Southampton 45 minutes from safety, but they knew one goal in any game could change that. The first goal in the second half came for Fulham as Zat Knight put them 3-0 up. Completely out of Norwich’s hands now, they needed all other results to go their way, but only minutes later at the Hawthorns Geoff Horsfield put the Baggies 1-0 up, and out of the relegation zone. At the same time, Palace pushed and got an equaliser. The Eagles were on the front foot knowing another goal would put them in the driving seat.
Time was running out. Just after the hour mark, Ruud van Nistelrooy put Manchester United 2-1 up against Southampton, essentially confirming their relegation. It was down to West Brom and Crystal Palace. Three goals in quick succession came after the 70th minute, once again changing the outcome.
First, Andy Johnson put Palace 2-1 up, moving them up to 17th and West Brom back down in the relegation zone. Two minutes later Steed Malbranque put Fulham 4-0 up as they cruised past Norwich. Back at the Hawthorns, Kieran Richardson put West Brom 2-0.
The crowd anxiously celebrated, knowing the score down at the Valley meant it wouldn’t be enough. They would need Charlton to equalise to help send down London rivals Crystal Palace.
With only 10 minutes remaining, the Norwich and Southampton fans had accepted their fates. Even Norwich’s form over the last couple of months hadn’t been enough to save them. West Brom held on to their 2-0 win and looked strong at the back, stopping Portsmouth at every moment.
When Jonathan Fortune leveled the game up at the Valley in the 82nd minute, Palace knew, without a late goal, they would be joining Southampton and Norwich. The news started to filter around the Hawthorns and the Baggies fans were on their feet nervously celebrating with a nail-biting end of the game to come.
Down at Craven Cottage, it was coming to an abysmal finish for Norwich. Two late goals put them 6-0 down and confirmed their relegation in a depressing and sour end. In contrast, Crystal Palace were pushing for a winner, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, at the Hawthorns, the final whistle had just been blown. Fans around the ground had already been on their mobiles getting updates as they happened at the Valley. Everyone including the Portsmouth fans stood waiting for the news to come through. The players waited pitchside as Bryan Robson and sections of the crowd finally got the news they were after. The final whistle had gone in all the other three games. Norwich were beaten 6-0, Man Utd held on to a 2-1 victory over Southampton, and Crystal Palace couldn’t find the win they were after.
West Brom had done it – the first team in Premier League history to be bottom at Christmas and survive relegation. The crowd invaded the pitch to celebrate with the players. Even the Portsmouth fans joined in knowing they’d helped relegate bitter rivals Southampton. Bryan Robson and his men could finally breathe a sigh of relief after completing the great escape.
Only two teams have completed this feat in the Premier League since. Sunderland emulated the Baggies in 2013/14, while Leicester completed their great escape in 2014/15 and went on to win the League the following season. This can give hope to any club when they’re bottom Christmas, because this is football. In the greatest league in the world, anything is possible.