Horsfield pursues lost causes as Albion seek escape hatch

West Bromwich Albion 2 - Birmingham City 0
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The Independent Football

A willingness to chase lost causes is a prerequisite for clubs threatened by relegation - and West Bromwich Albion clambered off the bottom of the Premiership by taking the injunction literally at The Hawthorns yesterday.

A willingness to chase lost causes is a prerequisite for clubs threatened by relegation - and West Bromwich Albion clambered off the bottom of the Premiership by taking the injunction literally at The Hawthorns yesterday.

In a victory which finally tarnished Steve Bruce's unbeaten record in top-flight derbies at the 11th time of asking, Albion's two goals had one thing in common. Both stemmed from a refusal to allow Birmingham City the luxury of assuming that any ball played into their territory, however innocuous it may have seemed, would not be hunted down.

Nine minutes after half-time, with the ball apparently going "dead" from Martin Albrechtsen's pass, Zolta Gera raced 20 yards in pursuit. The Hungarian slid into an advertising hoarding but leapt to his feet to win a corner off Stan Lazaridis. From the kick, Neil Clement headed his first goal since August.

Midway through the second half, Gera's long clearance looked to offer Kenny Cunningham the simple task of passing back to Maik Taylor. But Geoff Horsfield had other ideas, hustling his former Birmingham team-mate off the ball and feeding Jonathan Greening, whose cross was side-footed home by Kevin Campbell.

The win avenged Albion's embarrassing 4-0 defeat at St Andrew's and left Bruce as dismayed as his old Manchester United colleague Bryan Robson had been that December day. "No excuses - they wanted it more than us," said a seething Birmingham manager. "I've never publicly criticised my side but I won't accept that."

Bruce added: "Two weeks ago we gave our best performance of the season when we beat Liverpool. Maybe the praise they got went to their heads because what we saw today and in the second half at Crystal Palace was unacceptable. We're not out of the woods yet, that's for sure."

In fact, there is still an eight-point cushion between Birmingham and the drop zone. Bruce is painfully aware, however, that they have now lost five consecutive away matches. He will remember, too, how they failed to win any of the final eight games last season.

They remain comfortably placed compared with Albion, who are still five points behind 17th-placed Palace. Robson's team have a game in hand, though that is at Chelsea a week tomorrow. "Maybe they'll have won the title by then and will put their reserves out," the Albion manager joked. "But we showed what's possible by drawing at Arsenal. I just hope Barcelona take a lot out of them."

After a sticky start, Robson has transformed morale at Albion. This was their seventh home match without defeat, and they have lost only three times in 12 outings. "Results like this are good for confidence," he reflected, "but we know there is still hard work to be done."

Robson was well served by a player Albion bought from Bruce and Birmingham. Horsfield's more prosaic qualities were preferred to the club's highest earner, Nwankwo Kanu, and the record signing, Robert Earnshaw, and the one-time bricklayer justified his selection with his non-stop endeavour.

"Geoff got me into this division and kept me in it," said Bruce magnanimously. "He was fantastic today." Horsfield found strong support from Gera and Kieran Richardson, and Albion had struck a post through a Richardson free-kick and spurned several other opportunities before the breakthrough arrived.

The outcome might have been different had Emile Heskey's 55th-minute header not come out off the upright. But Albion's conviction made the use of Steve McQueen's picture on the giant screen, revving up his motorbike, seem less fanciful than it would have done a few weeks ago. The great escape may yet be on.

Goals: Clement (53) 1-0; Campbell (64) 2-0.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Hoult; Albrechtsen, Gaardsoe, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Wallwork, Richardson (Scimeca, 90), Greening; Campbell, Horsfield (Kanu, 86). Substitutes not used: Moore, Chaplow, Earnshaw.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Tebily (Lazaridis, 37), Cunningham, Upson, Clapham; Johnson, Clemence, Diao (Anderton, 68), Gray (Blake, 68); Pandiani, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Morrison.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Booked: Albion: Wallwork. Birmingham: Diao.

Man of the match: Horsfield.

Attendance: 25,749.

* The West Bromwich Albion chairman, Jeremy Peace, has confirmed that Kanu will leave in the summer if the club is relegated. The Nigeria international, who moved from Arsenal last July on a free transfer, has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave in the event of relegation.

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