Middlesbrough dimmed the light that was appearing at the end of West Bromwich's Great Escape tunnel with an emphatic nine minute spell during which they scored three goals and pushed their visitors back into the bottom three. Even with 11 first-team absentees, Middlesbrough had too much class.
West Bromwich were initially driven on by a travelling army of at least 2,500 whose convey of free coaches had left home escorted by World War Two military vehicles and accompanied by film star lookalikes, although "that Steve McQueen looked more like Gordon McQueen", noted one traveller. Their team created enough early chances to have ensured their recent revival would have continued long before Middlesbrough opened the scoring.
"It's a real setback for us," said West Bromwich manager Bryan Robson, who was making his first return to Middlesbrough since the end of his seven year reign at the club four years ago. "It's disappointing all round, the way we conceded goals and we missed too many good chances while Middlesbrough scored every one of theirs. That was the different between the sides. Now it's about how we respond, how we prepare for Blackburn on Tuesday."
Yet, twice in the opening minutes, West Bromwich striker Kevin Campbell stole in front of the snoozing Ugo Ehiogu. Brad Jones fingertipped his first shot around the post and, moments later, scampered out to prevent Robert Earnshaw converting his through ball. Campbell then tested the reserve keeper with a point-blank header which the Australian parried out uncertainly.
Like Robson, Boro were jeered the last time they played here. Time, the great healer, insured the former manager received a standing ovation and, after a dreadful draw on Tuesday, the home support found themselves warmly welcoming an unexpected scoring spree.
With Ray Parlour on the bench and Stewart Downing pushed out to the right, Bola Zenden resumed his natural role on the left. He was the one creatively classy act amid the relegation hurly burly. His clever ball in the 27th minute opened the way for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Russell Hoult saved, but Szilard Nemeth found the net with a soft shot through Thomas Gaardsoe's legs.
Five minutes later, the Slovakian, ironically the last player Robson signed for Boro, wrong-footed Martin Albrechtsen and Hoult, down too early, could only get a hand to his gentle cross and Hasselbaink slammed gleefully home from an inch.
Middlesbrough hadn't scored three in a match since January but added their third in nine minutes when Hasselbaink unleashed a fearsome drive from the edge of the area. Shellshocked Hoult could not hold and Nemeth easily headed home.
Boro ended the half in confident possession, each touch sarcastically olé'd by the travelling fans. Kanu and Junichi Inamoto came on but made little difference as Boro casually meandered the ball forward and back with little attacking intention. Kanu did have a couple of moments and substitute Geoff Horsfield dallied on a glorious opening. But it was Downing who lifted himself from his laurels to drain West Bromwich's confidence further with a beautiful left- foot free-kick which curled perfectly into the top corner.Reuse content