West Bromwich Albion 2 Manchester City 0
Even international footballers can become insecure. When Diomansy Kamara scored a brilliant first-half goal to set West Bromwich Albion on their way to victory here on Saturday, he opted against basking in the glory, preferring instead to seek reassurance from his manager.
Kamara, the Senegal striker, followed up a poor display against Fulham the week before to singlehandedly destroy Manchester City. Having scored the goal in the fifth minute, he ran up towards Bryan Robson, the Albion manager, to extract some sort of approval. It worked. Robson gave a thumbs-up and everybody was happy.
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"Diomansy was excellent," Robson said. "He's got real pace and can take people on and cause problems. I thought he gave his worst display against Fulham and I told him I wanted him to turn up today and not his brother - that's why he ran over to me when he scored. He was asking me 'is that OK?' and it was. He's a good lad. He got a goal and was terrific all game."
It was not just Kamara who played well at The Hawthorns. Albion produced easily their best display of the season and, if anything, the 2-0 scoreline flattered City.
It could have been a rout. City will, of course, wonder why they always seem to struggle against Albion but a more pressing issue is why Albion seem to be struggling in the lower regions of the Premiership. If they can match this form regularly over the next two months they will have no reason to fear relegation.
Kevin Campbell, a firsthalf substitute for Nathan Ellington, scored Albion's second goal just after the hour to seal the points and give cause for optimism.
But it was the goal by Kamara that set the tone of the post-match debates. Taking a fine, cross-field pass by Junichi Inamoto in his stride, Kamara gently lifted the ball over the head of Ben Thatcher with one touch, then drilled the ball home from close range with another. It was testimony to Kamara's vision, pace and composure, not to mention Inamoto's ability to produce the unexpected pass.
Late on, as if to confirm the difference between the teams, Andy Cole, of City, was sent off for a second bookable offence, having fouled, inevitably, the impressive Kamara. Stuart Pearce, the City manager, was in no mood for excuses. He could see from the first minute that Albion were superior and more astute.
"We were not good enough and the better team won," Pearce said. "We didn't compete with them and got what we deserved. I felt sorry for our fans and we have to put it right. I felt there was something in this game if we played well enough but we didn't do that. We did things wrong here but we've also done a lot right this season and I must keep a level head. But I don't like losing and my players will have definitely got the vibes from me that I don't like losing."
Campbell's goal was almost as good and said much about his ability to find space inside the penalty area. Using nearly two decades of experience to full advantage, Campbell evaded his marker to head home a cross by Paul Robinson after a sublime back-heal by Nwankwo Kanu.
This was the type of football that Albion were playing in 1978-79, when Robson was in the centre of the midfield, and when the supporters craved style as much as substance. The only surprise is that Robson still has his critics as a manager, for he has instilled so much confidence into the club that survival seems inevitable.
This is Albion's best team since 1982 and the football is just as attractive.
City, for whom Darius Vassell and Cole seemed to be on different wavelengths, offered virtually nothing that might be called an attacking threat and the Albion defenders had a relatively easy time of it.
This time, however, the midfield players performed well and dictated the pace of play.
Perhaps Inamoto is turning into the creative player that Albion have lacked since Kieran Richardson returned to Manchester United in the summer. Perhaps Jonathan Greening at last feels liberated on the flanks. Perhaps Ronnie Wallwork, much maligned earlier in the season, feels comfortable again. Perhaps Kamara is at last going to fulfil his potential.
There is little doubt that Robson will make signings when the transfer window opens in three weeks but that only emphasises the perception that Albion are in the Premiership to stay.