It would have taken the hardest of hearts to withhold sympathy for Bryan Robson as he contemplated relegation for West Bromwich Albion on Saturday night.

Typically he faced up to reality. With the directness and honesty that characterised his playing career, Robson admitted relegation was almost a certainty and that his players had failed when they really had to put in an outstanding performance at Newcastle.

Robson is not the sort who hangs out his players to dry in public but he must have wondered why they didn't put in the sort of whole-hearted shift that illuminated his own outstanding efforts as a player.

It was bewildering to observe such a pallid performance. He's had some justification in complaining recently about the number of penalties West Brom haven't been given in key, tight matches. But this time - after Neil Clement had been harshly judged for the penalty that led to Newcastle's second goal - Robson didn't pursue the point.

He knew the game was up, there were more salient factors in the whole season's failure than the odd penalty decision here and there.

So how much responsibility lies with Bryan Robson? He deservedly garnered the credit for masterminding the Great Escape last season, so does he take the flak this time around?

The manager and his assistant, Nigel Pearson, haven't been able to eradicate the chronic defensive errors that have caused so many silly goals. The lack of fire-power up front has been crucial and too many times, the team selection has been too cautious.

The problem over scoring goals centres on Robert Earnshaw and Nathan Ellington - both naturals in the division below the Premiership.

Earnshaw may have felt harshly treated at The Hawthorns but Robson produced some convincing statistics at the time of his transfer to rebut his value to West Brom in terms of his goals to victories ratio.

There's no evidence that Earnshaw can cut it in the Premiership and Robson was justified in accepting Norwich City's offer of more than #3 million in January.

Ellington just hasn't played enough to justify the reputation he forged at Wigan in the past two seasons and when he did, he was as profligate in front of goal as his team-mates.

Over the past few weeks a toe injury has kept him out and, reading the runes from Robson's comments, you wonder just how much Ellington was prepared to bite the bullet.

Every player has a different pain threshold and some aren't prepared to take a gamble and it was clear from Robson's body language when questioned at last Thursday's press briefing that Ellington had disappointed his manager in his apparent reluctance to put himself on the line.

Students of Robson the player wouldn't need many clues on the manager's view about any of his players wishing to be 100 per cent fit at this stage before committing themselves to the fray.

Zoltan Gera's injuries and illness, the regular absences of various strikers, some misfortune at crucial times - all that goes in the pot, to be stirred ruminatively as the season's sad end nears for West Brom.

A season that started with the confident assertion from this columnist that the Baggies, having bought some decent players, in the summer, would be in the comfort zone in May. I was not alone.

The West Brom board didn't do the manager a favour when he needed it in January and that was also a factor in the decline. Robson wanted Middlesbrough's Ugo Ehiogu and the big

defender was keen to return to the West Midlands. He would have been the ideal foil for the hugely promising but raw Curtis Davies.

The board blocked the move because Ehiogu's wages would have broken the wage structure. Yet Robson had engineered a profit of around #3.75 million and knocked off #2 million from the wage bill by selling Darren Moore, Robert Earnshaw, Geoff Horsfield and Ricky Scimeca in January.

All Robson got in return was Nigel Quashie, who then promptly undermined his new club by getting himself stupidly sent off and copping a suspension of five matches.

Ehiogu may be waning a shade as an imposing central defender but he's fought his way back into Middlesbrough's first team, playing well in Europe also. A manager of Robson's experience knows the value of a good pro in parlous times - someone like Horsfield and Kevin Campbell last season - and his judgment should have been backed.

Instead West Brom will be playing at Luton, Plymouth and Hull next season, gratified by the thought that at least the wage structure wasn't threatened last January.

Where will this leave Bryan Robson? No doubt some of the gilt on his metaphorical statue will be tarnished in the eyes of some West Brom supporters who revered him as a player. He will carry the can. That is one of his many redeeming features.

All through this difficult season, when he could have become more introspective, he has remained approachable and obliging to the regular football reporters from this area.

Robson understands the importance of communicating with the supporters. I appreciate that may cut no ice with those fans who would rather have regular victories than a manager respected by the local media.

It took Robson a long time to get back into English football management and I can't believe he will make the supreme sacrifice now.

His autobiography is out this summer and the final chapter will be an anti-climax. Unless he comes out with guns blazing over the Ehiogu saga, the West Brom board's relationship with him should be supportive enough.

Barwick dogged by FA's knack of compromising

So the obsession with compromise and committees that underpins so much of English society continues to make a mockery of the Football Association as they search for a new England manager.

We'll all be put out of our misery soon as the bruised egos of the selection committee are nursed. Then we'll be entitled to ask: "What is the point of a chief executive in charge of an organisation that makes so much money and influences so many careers and lives."

Does Brian Barwick justify his title? Why isn't he making the decision and he alone?

I'm under the impression that's what a CEO does in other professions. You trawl for opinions from influential colleagues, of course, but then you earn your money by standing alone and living with your decision.

I wonder, when Barwick took the job, did he realise how much he'd be dogged by the FA's chronic knack of compromising matters, ushering in chaos by allowing so much input from those who don't understand the imperatives.

Sir Trevor Brooking, with his playing background, is the only other FA figure entitled to make significant input to Barwick on this issue. The rest are just striking attitudes and indulging in turf wars.

Consider the case of someone plying his managerial trade in the Premiership who is clearly one of the greatest in recent decades.

He is the perfect age - 59 - has vast experience of Europe, is an acknowledged master at man-management, with an unrivalled contacts book and oversees a brand of football at his club that would make the England national side admired all over the world.

He is Arsene Wenger, of Arsenal. He is French. A Johnny Foreigner. But some of the inner cadre at the FA have come round to the idea that the new manager doesn't now have to be English. So Luiz Felipe Scolari is back in the frame.

Why hasn't Wenger been approached? Could it be that the main backer of Scolari at the FA is David Dein, the vice-chairman of Arsenal?

Dein pulled off a notable coup by luring the little-known Wenger to Highbury from Japan in 1996. Commendably, he wants the best man for the England job, irrespective of his nationality. So why doesn't he push for Wenger?

Could it be that Dein can't wear two hats in Soho Square and that he can't bear the thought of Wenger leaving Arsenal when they're in sight of the Champions' League trophy, a move to a new stadium and the prospect of having to sell the great Thierry Henry?

It would be entirely understandable if Dein is exercised by all this - he should withdraw from the FA's selection committee while they consider Arsene Wenger. Barwick should make that call, controversial though it may be. That's why chief executives are handsomely paid.

Shearer the lionheart still a hero with all his flaws

Alan Shearer is being lionised on his retirement and it's easy to see why. He was a lion of a player, incredibly brave and committed, with a tremendous track record.

Shearer never short-changed any of his clubs. An old-fashioned footballer in the best sense, aware of his good fortune, respectful of the supporters, programmed to give of his best each game.

Just before Brian Clough died in 2004 I asked him to name the best player of the Premiership decade. Unhesitatingly, he plumped for Shearer.

He said he was a manager's dream and that only goalscorers knew how hard it was to be consistent, season after season.

Clough, a man from the North-east, also admired hugely Shearer's commitment to Newcastle, with its unique status as a sporting hotbed.

So respect indeed to Alan Shearer, particularly for cocking a snook at Manchester United in 1996 when he chose his hometown club on leaving Blackburn Rovers.

Last week, Sir Alex Ferguson whimsically remarked at a charity dinner to Shearer that he'd have won more trophies if he'd plumped for Old Trafford.

Shearer, not missing a beat, replied: "I'd have won a few more for you as well."

Nobody intimidated this bloke.

There are some reservations over Shearer's iconic status, though.

This is the rugged player who kicked Neil Lennon blatantly on the head during a club match and got away with it through his undoubted prestige.

The World Cup finals of 1998 were imminent and it's widely believed that Shearer threatened to pull out if the FA censured him for his despicable assault on Lennon. Not for the first time, the FA behaved cravenly and looked the other way.

I recall a blatant dive by Shearer as England's disastrous part in Euro 2000 faded in the final minute against Romania.

Shearer's attempt to con his way to a penalty deservedly foundered and so his England career ended ignominiously.

There have been many other successful awards to Shearer after a player of such impressive physical attributes went down rather easily in the penalty area.

And let's not forget the countless occasions when Shearer has exerted his powerful personality and status on weak referees who have then buckled under such intimidation.

These are minor quibbles. The man has been a hero. But let's not be blind to his defects. He's not football's version of the Queen Mother.

Let's hope that when Alan Shearer finally settles on the Match of the Day sofa, he will address honestly various disciplinary lapses he indulged in during his marvellous career.

Shearer is too strong-minded to continue sitting on the fence.