Robson finds hope in an unlikely draw

Manchester United 1 - West Brom 1
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The Independent Football

Only one statistic took on the status of damn liar at Old Trafford as the accepted truths of football went on holiday early to give West Brom a sniff of survival.

Only one statistic took on the status of damn liar at Old Trafford as the accepted truths of football went on holiday early to give West Brom a sniff of survival.

Not the 27 shots United frittered away with a mixture of arrogance and blatant incompetence, nor the grand total of nought corners West Brom managed to win with a mixture of ignorance and blatant incompetence. No, the only figure masquerading as the giant Premiership porky of this, or for that matter any other, season was the one that read "West Brom 1".

The little fact that Robert Earnshaw's unlikely penalty was enough to earn a point that could yet see Bryan Robson's side complete an escape that would be more in the realms of fantasy than greatness was seemingly only lost on the West Brom manager.

"There was a definite penalty on Kanu at the end," said Captain Marvel, deep in the land of comic-book justice, "and that would have given us the win that would have put us in an unbelievable position."

Indeed, "unbelievable" just about sums up West Brom's survival surge that may or may not be capped by a wholly desirable home tie with Portsmouth come make-or-break Sunday. As the manager said: "They would all give up their last games for ours." Although they need the win and their three rivals to do nothing better than draw, Albion would have grabbed this scenario when Robson took over in November. "At Christmas we were dead and buried," he said.

At 6pm on Saturday they were "dead and buried", although the news from Selhurst Park at least had given them a week to plan the funeral. By that time United, and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular, had done enough to suggest a one-goal lead, effected when Ryan Giggs's quickly-taken free-kick took advantage of the groin injury that was ultimately to claim Russell Hoult, was a mere appetiser.

But then Tomasz Kuszczak trotted on to make one of those inspired debuts that seem to be the preserve of young goalkeepers, and suddenly West Brom realised they were still in the frame despite not being at the races.

"Fortunate days do happen sometimes," said Robson. "And if we do stay up it will be the best achievement I've had in football."

Old Trafford almost let out a huge "ahhhhh" as he said it. All but Sir Alex Ferguson that is, who dismissed the pathetic whispers of some sort of favour being accorded his great friend with a tirade against his own players.

"Embarrassing," was the general gist of it as he all but conceded second place, and hence automatic Champions' League qualification, to Arsenal.

"I promise you it will not happen again next year," he said when reflecting on his resting of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes. "I will think seriously about the teams I am going to play."

West Brom were also forgiven for seriously considering which teams they were going to play. Chelsea or Millwall? Same capital, different world.

Goals: Giggs (21), 1-0; Earnshaw (pen63) 1-1.

Manchester United (4-3-2-1): Carroll; Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea; Kleberson (Rooney, 67), P Neville (Scholes, 67), Fortune; Ronaldo, Giggs; Smith (Saha, 67). Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Miller.

West Bromwich Albion (4-3-3): Hoult (Kuszczak, 22); Albrechtsen, Gaardsoe, Clement, Robinson; Gera (Inamoto, 83), Wallwork, Greening; Earnshaw, Campbell, Horsfield (Kanu, 66). Substitutes not used: Scimeca, Moore.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Bookings: Manchester United Smith.

Man of the match: Kuszczak.

Attendance: 67,827.