Clement and Kanu state West Brom's credentials

West Bromwich Albion 1 - Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Online

When asked to analyse the dreadful start that cost West Bromwich Albion their Premiership status two seasons ago, Gary Megson memorably remarked: "Hope disappeared over the horizon with her backside on fire after five minutes." After two games, both of which West Brom might have won, hope's underwear is not even warm.

When asked to analyse the dreadful start that cost West Bromwich Albion their Premiership status two seasons ago, Gary Megson memorably remarked: "Hope disappeared over the horizon with her backside on fire after five minutes." After two games, both of which West Brom might have won, hope's underwear is not even warm.

There was nothing in a frenetic and exhausting Midlands derby to disprove the theory that, of the three promoted clubs, West Bromwich are the best equipped to survive. Their capacity for resilience has never been in question but their reserves of skill frequently have. However, in the differing shapes and styles of Kanu and Zoltan Gera, signed for £1.5m from Ferencvaros, Megson these days possesses players who might turn one point into three.

Geoff Horsfield benefited from both their interventions. In the first half, the Nigerian beautifully took down a fierce cross from Paul Robinson and fed Horsfield in one movement, while, in the second, Gera drove through a pass that would have drawn comparisons with a different generation of Hungarian footballers. On both occasions the big striker's touch was too blunt.

Megson confessed that the biggest problem he has as a manager was persuading transfer targets that the Hawthorns would be hosting Premiership football next August. "We can only deal in quality," he said. "There is no point in just chucking money at ordinary players, otherwise we will end up like Portsmouth who finished last season with 47 professionals."

The presence of Kanu, Gera and, indeed, Neil Clement, whose drive from midfield has brought him both of Albion's goals this season, might prove persuasive but after 20 minutes Megson confessed he would gladly have settled for a hopeful draw.

Aston Villa began with fluid and sometimes sumptuous football. After four minutes Olof Mellberg headed a free-kick from Thomas Hitzlsperger past Russell Hoult and a quarter of an hour later he did the same, this time from a corner. Hoult half-parried it and Robinson hacked it clear, although his whole body appeared to be over the line when he did so. The referee, Mark Halsey, failed even to consult his linesman over the decision, although this error was balanced by his failure to award Albion a penalty for handball after what Megson called Gavin McCann's "juggling act" in the frenetic closing stages.

However, after dominating effortlessly, Aston Villa somehow lost momentum and direction. With his beard and long, lank hair, Jonathan Greening has a fundamentalist, almost messianic appearance and Clement, standing on the penalty spot, headed his dubiously awarded free-kick decisively past Thomas Sorensen.

Only their finishing, chiefly from set-pieces, denied West Bromwich their first victory over Aston Villa since April 1985, the last year they successfully negotiated a season in the top-flight, Darren Purse seeing three separate headers from corners go wide. However, it was not just their start that did for West Brom two seasons ago; this was their 12th top-flight game at the Hawthorns without a win and it is here by the A41 where hope will either cling on or disappear.

Goals: Mellberg (3) 0-1; Clement (38) 1-1.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Hoult; Scimeca, Gaardsoe, Purse, Robinson; Haas (Gera, 63), Johnson, Clement, Greening; Horsfield (Dobie, 74), Kanu. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), D Moore, Albrechtsen.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Delaney, Mellberg, Laursen, Samuel; Solano (De la Cruz, 80), Hitzlsperger, McCann, Barry; Cole, Vassell (Angel, 71). Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Whittingham, L Moore.

Referee: M Halsey (Hertfordshire).

Booked: West Brom: Horsfield, Johnson. Villa: Laursen, Mellberg.

Man of the Match: Clement.

Attendance: 26,601.

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