Football: Robson's hopes diminishing

Norwich City 3 West Bromwich Albion 2
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IT'S THAT time of the season again - the Premiership is reaching its brutal stage, and you can hear the mantras humming.

As a manager, what's your overriding emotion when you witness your side twice lose the lead in a crucial relegation match before succumbing to defeat five minutes from time? Rage? Grief? Disbelief? Bryan Robson was entitled to feel all of those as his players slipped closer to an immediate exit from the top flight. Instead, he pronounced himself "very disappointed".

From the start, Albion looked the side with more nous, with Kieran Richardson drawing admiring sounds from the travelling fans for a couple of missile-like crossfield passes. Having hit the Norwich woodwork twice just after the half hour, Albion gained a deserved reward four minutes before the break. The home keeper Robert Green, whose kicking was wayward throughout, misguidedly lofted a clearance straight to Jonathan Greening, who transferred the ball back swiftly for Robert Earnshaw to score.

A custodial error at the other end allowed Norwich to return to the dressing- room all square, however, when from a corner taken by Norwich's debutant, the former Charlton midfielder Graham Stuart, Craig Fleming produced a header which Russell Hoult only managed to flap into the net under pressure from Damien Francis.

Four minutes after the break, Albion were back in front after Richardson capitalised on another break from Earnshaw, but when Darren Huckerby cut inside his marker and crossed to the far post a minute after the hour, City's central defender Gary Doherty was allowed to nod home unchallenged.

And Albion's defence went missing in action once again five minutes from time after Dean Ashton, Gary Holt and Fleming were allowed to play head tennis in their box before Francis drove home the winner on the half-volley. Norwich's full-back Marc Edworthy acknowledged afterwards that his side had been somewhat fortunate to win. "Its a ruthless League. Any slight mistake you make gets punished. Fourth place from bottom would be fantastic for us, and I'm sure we're going to do it."

Robson, meanwhile, bore the expression of a man who was far from sure about his own team's prospects. "Ninety-five per cent of the game we played was excellent, but the other five per cent keeps letting us down. We need to get it right. If we keep conceding like we did today we've got no chance."

Goals: Earnshaw (41) 0-1; Fleming (45) 1-1; Richardson (49) 1-2; Doherty (61) 2-2; Francis (85) 3-2.

Norwich City (4-3-3): Green; Edworthy, Fleming, Doherty, Charlton (Brennan, 45); Stuart (McVeigh, 68), Francis, Holt; Huckerby, Ashton, McKenzie. Substitutes not used: Gallacher (gk), Safri, Jonson.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Hoult; Scimeca, Purse, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Wallwork, Richardson, Greening (Horsfield, 88); Earnshaw, Campbell. Substitutes not used: Kuszaczak (gk), Chaplow, Kanu, Gaardsoe.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: West Bromwich: Scimeca, Clement, Greening.

Man of the match: Francis.

Attendance: 24,292.

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