Middlesbrough 4 West Bromwich Albion 0

West Bromwich Albion's dejected manager Bryan Robson looked like he was just about to face a firing squad.

His players wore the collective look of a hut full of PoWs who have just had their escape tunnel discovered.

Their survival hopes now rest on how quickly they can dig another tunnel and the signs may not be as discouraging as they initially appeared on Saturday night.

There is still hope, given that two of their best tunnellers, Privates Greening and Richardson, were absent from parade on Saturday. And then there's The Horse.

Not the Wooden Horse, but The Hawthorns Horse, Geoff Horsfield, whose physical presence ought to at least ensure that Blackburn Rovers' defenders come under more threat tomorrow night than Middlesbrough's did on Saturday.

Kevin Campbell and Rob Earnshaw did have their moments at the Riverside but neither had anything like the incisiveness of Boro's front two, Szilard Nemeth and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

Boro's strike duo were, admittedly, helped by the generosity of the Baggies' defending and it has to be said that Albion's midfield has functioned better.

Jonathan Greening's suspension has another game to run, but Kieran Richardson's expected return will help and it cannot be envisaged that this season's star turn, Zoltan Gera, can have another such muted 90 minutes.

By contrast, Nemeth's contribution was a particular source of discomfort to the man who organised Boro's signing of the Slovakian four summers ago.

It was the final piece of business Robson did for Boro and the Albion boss, while hardly clutching his sides with laughter, could at least afford to appreciate the irony.

"He's repaid me really well," joked Robson with a half-smile. "[Boro manager] Steve McClaren should sell him!"

It could have been a different story had Albion taken any of their many early chances. As the team were roared on by their 40 coachloads of fans, it was all Albion for most of the first half-hour.

Campbell forced a fingertip save from Boro goalkeeper Brad Jones when allowed to turn in the box, and then turned provider when, pouncing on Ugo Ehiogu's misjudgement, he steered a neat ball through for Earnshaw, whose well-struck chip was blocked by the keeper.

Earnshaw had scored for Albion against Boro in Robson's first game in charge last November, but chances like that simply have to be taken at this level if he is to secure a regular starting spot.

Jones had to make another point-blank save when Richard Chaplow landed a freekick on Campbell's head. Then, when another bad error from Ehiogu let in Chaplow down the right, 38-year-old Colin Cooper got in ahead of Earnshaw to make a vital interception.

Having once again looked happy to play their way out of trouble, Albion were suddenly sunk by a nightmare ten minutes that highlighted all their defensive frailties.

Boudewijn Zenden's superb ball threaded Hasselbaink through to catch the Albion defence cold but, when Russell Hoult saved with his legs, Nemeth latched onto the loose ball. His weak left-foot shot, which would have troubled to knock the skin off the proverbial rice pudding, went through Thomas Gaardsoe's legs, taking a slight deflection off the Dane's right heel that took it just out of Hoult's reach as it trickled into the far corner of the goal.

If that was disappointing, it was a mere prelude to the way Albion were cut open six minutes later.

Nemeth got past Gaardsoe with similar ease to drill in a cross from the left and Hoult's attempt to parry saw him clumsily steer the ball back towards his own goal. It had probably crossed the line by the time the hungry Hasselbaink slammed into the back of the net but few would stand in the way of any true poacher's claims to get on the scoresheet and it will almost certainly go down as the Dutchman's goal.

Four minutes further on, astonishingly, it was 3-0.

The Albion defence backed off as Hasselbaink ran through shaping to shoot and Hoult will again have been disappointed. He could only fumble and the alert Nemeth won the race to nod over the spread-eagled keeper and into an empty net.

Coming back from that would have been more like Mission Impossible than Great Escape but Albion continued to miss chances.

Earnshaw twice could have done better when fed by teasing crosses from the tireless Ronnie Wallwork and, when Kanu came on at half-time, he had a header blocked at close range.

Long before Stewart Downing's classy last-minute freekick, earned by an almost ridiculous dive from Hasselbaink, the destination of the three points was obvious.

But, as the Baggies fans prepared for the long trek back to the Black Country, there was one consolation . . . at least they hadn't paid for their coach tickets.

Scorers: Nemeth (27), Hasselbaink (33), Nemeth (37), Downing (90).

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Jones; Cooper (Davies, 37), Ehiogu, Southgate, Queudrue; Downing, Boateng, Doriva, Zenden (Parlour, 67); Nemeth (Graham, 87), Hasselbaink. Subs: Knight, Wheater.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Hoult; Albrechtsen (Inamoto, h/t), Gaardsoe, Clement, Robinson; Gera (Horsfield, 79), Scimeca, Wallwork, Chaplow; Campbell (Kanu, h/t), Earnshaw. Subs: Kuszczak (gk), Moore.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Bookings: Boro - Downing (foul); Albion - Gaardsoe (foul).

Attendance: 32,951.

Albion man of the match: Ronnie Wallwork - a real driving force since the turn of the year and the source of most of Albion's better moments at the Riverside.