The 2004-2005 Premier League campaign saw a fascinating battle to preserve top-flight status. On Christmas Day 2004, West Bromwich Albion were bottom of the table and looking in dire straits. No side before them had escaped relegation from this perilous situation. However, the Baggies made history and survived on an epic last day.
West Bromwich Albion were about to embark on their second Premier League campaign in the summer of 2004. Relegated in their debut season, the Baggies had made an instant return, finishing runners-up to Norwich City in the First Division. Once again, it was Gary Megson who would be in-charge of the men from The Hawthorns.
£5 million was invested into the squad in the summer transfer window. Rob Earnshaw came in for £3 million from Cardiff City, whilst former Nigerian international Kanu bolstered the striking options further, joining after his contract had expired at Arsenal.
The season started solidly enough with three successive 1-1 draws against Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur. However, it wasn’t until early October until a maiden victory in the season arrived. High-flying Bolton Wanderers arrived in the Midlands sitting in fourth position but they were beaten 2-1 after a week where the first signs of rifts within the dressing room and the manager had been reported in the press. Summer arrivals Kanu and Zoltan Gera got the goals in the victory over the Trotters. It ensured West Brom were the first newly-promoted club to win in the campaign.
Despite the win, relations between Megson and owner Jeremy Peace were straining towards breaking point. Shortly after the Bolton victory, Megson announced that he would not sign a new deal if offered one by the club and he would leave his post as manager at the end of the season. Three days after a 3-0 away defeat to relegation rivals Crystal Palace, he left the club by mutual consent.
After Frank Burrows steered the club through a couple of games in caretaker charge, Bryan Robson was appointed as Megson’s permanent successor, taking the post on 9th November.
Giving, not receiving
Robson’s first game in charge was against one of his former clubs in Middlesbrough. After scoring his first two goals in the 2-2 draw away at Southampton, Earnshaw scored his first home Premier League goal for the club. However, Kanu’s unbelievable miss from virtually a couple of yards out in the closing stages meant Middlesbrough went away from the Midlands with all three points.
Earnshaw was in a purple patch of form and he found the target again a week later in a very respectable 1-1 draw away at champions Arsenal. That hard-fought point at Highbury though was followed by five successive defeats, beginning with a 3-0 home defeat to Manchester United. With other sides near the bottom finding some form, West Brom plummeted to the foot of the table.
The festive season performances were the stuff of nightmares. A demoralising 4-0 loss to local rivals Birmingham City ensured West Brom would go into Christmas Day propping up the table. That result was followed by a shambolic display at home to a Liverpool FC side on Boxing Day that had won only once on the road all season. John Arne Riise scored twice and Florent Sinama-Pongolle achieved a rare Premier League goal as Liverpool left The Hawthorns with a 5-0 victory and kept the hosts marooned to the bottom of the league.
Although Richard Dunne’s late own goal earned a point at Manchester City to finish 2004, Robson was yet to win a game at the helm as manager. They were bottom of the table going into 2005 and with no club previously having avoided relegation after being bottom on Christmas Day, the club’s Premier League future looked very bleak.
29TH DECEMBER 2004 TABLE
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The opening of the January transfer window saw the chance for Robson to strengthen his squad. He brought in the experience of Kevin Campbell from Everton. His goals had saved the Toffees from relegation in 1999 and he certainly knew how to find the back of the net from his Arsenal days.
The promising midfielder Richard Chaplow was added from Burnley and Kieran Richardson joined on-loan from Manchester United. All three would play a part in this great escape. After 13 games without a win, Robson’s side recorded a 2-0 home win against Manchester City, with Campbell scoring on his home debut and Ronnie Wallwork getting a vital second in the closing stages.
Wins followed over Birmingham City and Charlton Athletic in March. At The Valley, Earnshaw scored a tremendous second half hat-trick to become the first player to score trebles in all four English divisions, the FA Cup, the League Cup and at international level for Wales. The 4-1 away victory at Charlton would turn out to be West Brom’s solitary away win of the season. However, this was the day when their fans really started to believe they could pull off the impossible.
Another win came at the start of April. Gera’s second half header steered the Baggies to a 1-0 win over Everton and took them off the foot of the table with Norwich replacing them as the basement club.
Defeats away to Middlesbrough and at home against Arsenal put Albion on the brink again as the final month of the season approached. Form continued to fluctuate between the Baggies, Crystal Palace, Norwich and Southampton. The Canaries put together a run of four wins and a draw in six games to lift themselves out of the relegation zone going into the final round of games.
Danny Higginbotham’s stoppage-time equaliser for Southampton ensured the points were shared at Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace. Later that evening, Earnshaw’s 11th Premier League goal of the season from the penalty spot earned Robson and West Brom a precious point at Old Trafford against Manchester United. For the first time in Premier League history, no side had been relegated before the final day of the season. ‘Survival Sunday’ was on.
Only Norwich had control of their situation. A win for them at Craven Cottage would relegate the other sides but they were beaten 6-0 by Fulham. That made relegation a certainty for the Canaries. Defeat at home to Manchester United meant Southampton would join them so that meant it was a straight shootout for survival between West Brom and Crystal Palace.
Albion had a winnable game at home to Portsmouth and after a nervy first half; they got the win they needed to have any chance of staying up. Seconds after arriving as a substitute, Geoff Horsfield scored the opening goal before Richardson ensured a 2-0 victory. They now needed a favour from Charlton at The Valley against Crystal Palace. With eight minutes left, Jonathan Fortune scored a dramatic equaliser for Charlton to make the scoreline 2-2 and push Palace into the drop zone. Despite their best efforts, the visitors’ couldn’t find the crucial winner they required.
FINAL 2004-2005 TABLE – THE BOTTOM SIX
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When the full-time whistle went in London, the party could begin at The Hawthorns with memorable scenes as fans invaded the pitch to greet and carry their heroes off the field. Robson had achieved a remarkable feat. No team in history before had been bottom on Christmas Day and survived.
Relegation would follow the following season and again in 2009 under Tony Mowbray. It was only when Roy Hodgson succeeded Roberto Di Matteo in February 2011 that their reputation as a yo-yo club ended. West Brom enjoyed an eight-year spell in the Premier League before suffering a fourth Premier League relegation in 2018. Whatever West Bromwich Albion will achieve in their future, it will have to go some to beat this remarkable tale of survival achieved in 2004-2005.