A "shocked and disappointed" Bryan Robson departed West Bromwich Albion "by mutual consent" a mere eight games into the new season yesterday, leaving the Championship's ninth-placed club to begin the search for a manager capable of restoring them to the Premiership at the first attempt.
Robson, the 49-year-old former England captain, had been in charge at The Hawthorns for 22 months. In his first campaign, Albion became the first club since the inception of the Premier League to escape demotion after lying bottom at Christmas. Last season, however, they went down after picking up only four draws in the final 13 fixtures, and the chairman, Jeremy Peace, saw three wins in eight matches as insufficient improvement.
Albion will now dip into what appears a sizeable pool of available managerial talent. Alan Curbishley, who said after leaving Charlton that he would be ready to return in October, may top the list. Other names expected to figure in the board's deliberations are Graham Taylor, David O'Leary and Alex McLeish, while the credentials of Steve Cotterill, the Burnley manager, and the Gretna coach, Mick Wadsworth, may come under scrutiny.
Glenn Hoddle, who was close to taking over when Gary Megson was ousted two years ago, could also be in the frame. Intriguingly, two other candidates at that time, Gordon Strachan and Gérard Houllier, are now in the Champions' League.
The Robson era ended with a terse statement on the Albion website from Peace. "After much deliberation, and in view of the results since early 2006, it has been decided that a change is necessary if the club is to achieve its aims for this season and beyond," he said. "This is a very important time for the club. With promotion a priority, the board felt that given the club's current league position, the best way forward was to agree to make a change now."
Despite the use of the term "mutual consent", it was soon evident that Robson had not exactly concurred with the change. He put out his own statement saying he had enjoyed his time at a club he first left 25 years ago next month - for Manchester United in a then British record transfer of £1.5m - and expressed the view that it was "only a matter of time before [the squad] get it right, climb the table and win promotion".
But his deputy, Nigel Pearson, who will take charge of the team in tonight's Carling Cup tie at home to Cheltenham Town, revealed that the news had come as "a big shock" to Robson. "Bryan was disappointed, as you'd expect, and obviously upset," he said. "He had a sense of unfinished business here, but I'm afraid that's football. The players were subdued and disappointed too, but they're professionals and they will prepare properly for the game."
Pearson, Robson's captain in his first managerial post at Middlesbrough, added that he expected him to want to return to management. "I'm sure he'll be back in work very shortly because he has got a great deal to offer football. Relegation was a setback but the club has moved forward in other respects. It's in a much healthier state than it was before Bryan arrived. He'll just be sad not to be able to finish the job he started."
When it was suggested to Pearson that the parting was surprising given that it is only 16 months since Robson led Albion to the "great escape" from relegation from the Premier League on the last day of the 2004-05 season, he replied: "You have to be a realist in this game. It is a results-driven business." Albion won just 15 (only two away) and lost 35 of his 72 League matches.
Losing it: The run that cost Robson
* 2005-06 Last 13 Premiership games
v Fulham (a) 1-6
v Middlesbrough (h) 0-2
v Chelsea (h) 1-2
v Birmingham (a) 1-1
v Man Utd (h) 1-2
v Tottenham (a) 1-2
v Liverpool (h) 0-2
v Aston Villa (a) 0-0
v Arsenal (a) 1-3
v Bolton (h) 0-0
v Newcastle (a) 0-3
v West Ham (h) 0-1
v Everton (a) 2-2
* 2006-07 First eight League games which preceded Robson's departure.
v Hull City (h) 2-0 v Cardiff (a) 1-1
v Southampton (a) 0-0
v Colchester (h) 2-1
v Sunderland (a) 0-2
v Leicester (h) 2-0
v Preston (a) 0-1
v Southend (h) 1-1Reuse content