<i>West Bromwich Albion 0 Middlesbrough 2</i>

There's no doubt a bit of winter sunshine did the job for West Bromwich Albion in their battle against relegation a year ago. But the Arabian Gulf does not appear to have had the same effect as Florida.

Last March, Albion returned from the United States looking like Florida pearls. Twelve months on, Bryan Robson's beleaguered Baggies have come back from Dubai looking ready to say 'goodbye' to the Premiership.

The disparity between last season's first match back in action, the 2-0 derby win over Birmingham City, and this 2-0 defeat to Robson's former club was massive.

Robson argued that his team were the better side. In terms of possession, they were, but it is going to take goals to keep his side up this time. Albion, who average less than one a game, do not look like scoring enough of them.

Admittedly, a deflected Jimmy Hasselbaink free-kick sealed Albion's second successive league defeat - their seventh this season at home. They had only themselves to blame for the freedom Hasselbaink was allowed to go through to fire his first goal.To play for the final 36 minutes a man short, after the dismissal of Nigel Quash-ie, was another shot in the foot.

Robson made three changes to the team hammered 6-1 by Fulham. Paul Robinson returned after suspension at left-back, allowing Neil Clement to return to the centre of defence in place of the axed Thomas Gaardsoe. Albion also had their two African Nations' Cup contestants, Nwankwo Kanu and Diomansy Kamara, back on duty.

Kanu came straight back in upfront for the departed Geoff Horsfield while Kamara's inclusion for one of the two wide roles was at the expense of Junichi Inamoto.

After the luxury of their warm-weather hideaway in Dubai, the bleakness of a mid-winter afternoon in the Black Country must have seemed all the more uninviting for Albion's players. It did not take long for the freezing conditions to appear even more bitter.

Aiyegbeni Yakubu had twice gone close before setting up Boro's 17th-minute opener for his strike partner Hasselbaink. After heading Gaizka Mendieta's corner over the bar from close range, Yakubu was let down by a poor first touch when he broke clear, allowing Martin Albrechtsen the chance to intervene. But, when Yakubu turned supplier, it brought him better results.

Boro's top scorer stroked a neat ball into space down the centre-forward channel and Hasselbaink timed his run from behind Clement superbly. Although Tomasz Kuszczak got a hand on the shot, he could not keep out the Dutch-man's low effort.

It was against the general run of play and Albion continued to have more possession but struggled to create the openings that might have picked the lock on a Boro defence, tightly marshalled by Gareth Southgate, that had overcome their blip against Aston Villa.

Jonathan Greening shot wide after Kanu conjured a chance for Kamara whose goal-bound shot was blocked. But then captain Kevin Campbell could only head Greening's free-kick straight at Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer, who had made two comfortable early saves, from Clement's free kick and Kamara's low shot.

Quashie sliced badly wide from 20 yards and Albion were made to pay when Boro led 2-0 on the stroke of half-time.

Curtis Davies fouled Hasselbaink in the 'D' - and the Dutchman exacted a harsh punishment. Hasselbaink's apparently harmless 20-yard free-kick took a wicked deflection off Ronnie Wall-work in the Albion wall and it left Kuszczak hopelessly wrong-footed, trickling into the left corner of the goal.

Albion wasted their best chance in first-half injury time as Greening, fed by Kanu, shot over the bar.

Albion had another good chance at the start of the second half when Quashie planted a powerful header from Martin Albrechtsen's cross straight at Schwarzer. Perhaps that simply sowed the seeds of frustration in the competitive Scottish international.

After losing a midfield tussle with Boateng, he kicked out in frustration, catching the Villa old boy in the back. It took a television replay to highlight his misdemeanour,

a luxury not afforded to the confused Albion fans. But the officials were sharp-eyed enough not to have need for any technology - Quashie's red card was inevitable.

Greening did go a lot closer with a 20-yard shot on the hour and a Clement free-kick pounded into a Boro defensive wall but Schwarzer was equal to Kanu's shot from 12 yards. When Clement's free-kick was blocked, Kamara's shot flew just over.

That was the end of the Albion threat and, in the final ten minutes, there could only be two sounds heard inside The Hawthorns . . . the distant pocket of Boro fans warbling their delight at the Smethwick End and the tipping-up of plastic seats at the Birmingham Road End as disenchanted Albion supporters streamed towards exits. What couldn't they all do with a winter break? ..SUPL: