Robson denied suggestions that he wrote off the midweek game at Chelsea as a match his side could not win but the five changes he made and the lacklustre way his team performed gave that impression. All five players who had come in on Wednesday were left out yesterday but the sloppiness remained. Focus and application are not commodities to be turned on and off like a tap. Robson, though, insisted he did not regret his decision. "That's why in the second half we ran on quite strongly," he explained. "Most of the lads out there hadn't played midweek."
West Brom were much improved in the second half but by then Robson's policy had left them two down. There was a general lack of bite to West Brom in the first half but it was the absence of marking that was most striking. Emile Heskey has his critics but even they would say it is probably not wise to allow him a free header from eight yards out. Having done so once, standing back as he thumped in Jamie Clapham's 10th-minute cross, it was bordering on the criminal to leave him unattended again as he plunged on to Jermaine Pennant's deft right-wing delivery to make it 3-1 after just 33 minutes.
Heskey was withdrawn just after the hour, suffering "tightness in his hip, groin and thigh", according to his manager, Steve Bruce. Even with half a leg out of action, though, he showed how valuable he is to Birmingham. "For him to have been a kicking-block for so long is ridiculous," said Bruce. "I've said since we signed him that he's the best centre-forward of his type in the country. He's virtually unplayable when we play to his strengths."
That means good crosses, and Pennant is certainly capable of providing those. He set up Birmingham's second as well, Jiri Jarosik's downward header from his free-kick glancing in off the post. Needless to say, the big Czech was barely marked. "Defensively as a team we were really poor in the first half and that cost us," Robson said. "The back four didn't get a good enough line and Heskey and [Mikael] Forssell were running wherever they wanted to run. We didn't make them work to get positions, which brought the wider players into the game."
Thank goodness, then, for Horsfield. Whether a run-out at Chelsea in midweek would really have left him jaded is doubtful but he was certainly at full throttle yesterday. As all about him were losing their heads in a goalmouth scramble after 12 minutes, he crashed through the panic to cancel out Heskey's opener. Then, after Damien Johnson had miscued a clearance back into his own goalmouth, he had the presence of mind to sidefoot a calm volley past Maik Taylor.
That left West Brom with 26 minutes in which to find an equaliser but that proved beyond even Horsfield. He headed narrowly over after Zoltan Gera had forced the ball back across goal and then, with seven minutes remaining, turned Martin Albrechtsen's cross back for Robert Earnshaw but the Welsh forward's volley was straight at Taylor.
It was in the first half, though, that the damage was done. "We've let in seven goals in the last two games," said Robson. "It's hard enough scoring any goals in the Premiership, never mind having to get four. Last season it was defensively that we had our success. We didn't have performances or lapses like that."
If relegation is not to loom once more, they cannot afford many more.
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