Aston Villa 1 West Bromwich Albion 1

There was only one thing West Bromwich Albion got wrong when they adopted The Great Escape as the backdrop to this year's attempted relegation rescue.

Hiring a Steve McQueen double to front the escape committee may have looked good on camera, but it does not get results.

Everyone knows that Charles Bronson was one of the lucky few to make it all the way to safety. And, in the dark, brooding, bull-like figure of Paul Robinson, the Baggies have clearly found their own 'Tunnel king'.

So often in the early part of Bryan Robson's reign Albion were undone by late goals, Portsmouth, Fulham and Norwich standing out in particular - a catalogue of dropped points that would see them almost safe had they held on for the full 90 minutes.

But, in the 93rd minute yesterday, Robinson's bulletlike header at least helped redress the balance.

He had not found the net for Albion in his 58 previous appearances. In fact, he had not found any net since scoring for his former club Watford, in September 2002.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Just when the wheels appeared to have come off and the tunnel caved in on this brave Baggies' escape bid, Robinson came up with the goods. His goal not only offers long-term hope to Albion's plight but has had a much more immediate shortterm effect.

Not only did it leapfrog them out of the bottom three for the first time since November, but they then stayed in the heaven of seventeenth place when Crystal Palace were turned over by Everton later in the day.

It should not have been an overall performance that anyone at Albion will look back on with any pride, given the inspiring form Robson's men have shown of late. But, at this time of the season, it's not 'how' but 'how many' that counts. If this was the

Baggies' sole 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card, then they have to make sure that yesterday's late effort does not go to waste.

Maybe it was in the wake of so many results not going their way the previous day; perhaps it was simply a follow-on from last week's fun and games at St James' Park, but there was simply only one team at the races during an imbalanced first half.

The only surprise was that it resulted in so few direct threats on Russell Hoult's goal. He had to be at his sharpest to keep out Darius Vassell early on after Nolberto Solano's neat chip over the top, while he saved a low curler from Lee Hendrie, who was just off target with his next shooting effort just before the break.

Hoult, though, was beaten only once as Vassell struck his first Premiership goal since the first day of the season - largely because of the five months he has been injured. But it was not a great moment for Albion, whose marking went to pot as two Villa players were allowed free headers from Solano's corner.

Liam Ridgewell met Solano's flag-kick with a powerful header which Hoult turned on to the bar. But, with the Albion defence still all over the place, Vassell was in the right spot at the right time to head home.

By comparison, Albion had been feeble, with only one chance to show for their efforts when Thomas Sorensen made a routine save to turn aside Geoff Horsfield's header from a Kieran Richardson free-kick.

Things got gradually better for the Baggies after the break, though and they were less affected than Villa by the game's major flashpoint.

It was all so unnecessary. Jonathan Greening's flailing arm unwittingly caught Ridgewell in the face and the young Villa defender reared up like a big kid. He squared up to Greening, the Albion man responded and referee

Rob Styles was faced with the sight of them behaving like two rutting stags.

Albion manager Bryan Robson suggested that Mr Styles might have been better off delivering a bit of an earwigging. It would have been a bit more adult to have a laugh and a quick chat.

As it was, they both departed for the showers and Albion's ten men proved more powerful than Villa's ten men. Hoult still had work to do as Villa chased the killer second goal but Albion began to threaten more menacingly.

Sorensen had to touch Zoltan Gera's shot round the post and Horsfield missed his kick, but the Baggies seemed to have shot their bolt when the off-colour Gera curled his late free-kick over the bar. Not even the introduction of Kanu and Rob Earnshaw could prise an opening and

Albion faced only a third defeat since the turn of the year. Then,the third of Robson's substitutions came up trumps.

Gera's neat touch along the right allowed Ricky Scimeca to drill over a dangerous cross, the ball flicked off the head of Mark Delaney and Robinson, powering in at the far post, buried his header.

Scorers: Vassell (27) 1-0; Robinson (93) 1-1 ASTON VILLA (4-1-2-1-2): Sorensen; Delaney, Laursen, Ridgewell, Samuel; Davis; Solano (De La Cruz (61), Barry; Hendrie; Vassell, Angel (Cole 80). Subs: Postma (gk), Hitzlsperger, Berson.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Hoult; Albrechtsen (Scimeca 80), Gaardsoe, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Wallwork, Richardson, Greening; Campbell (Kanu 71), Horsfield (Earnshaw 71). Subs: Kuszczak (gk), Moore.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire) Bookings: Villa - Laursen (foul); Albion - Robinson, Kanu (fouls).

Sendings-off: Villa - Ridgewell; Albion - Greening (both for violent conduct). Attendance: 39,402 Villa man of the match: Steve Davis - hard to understand on this evidence why his manager chose to buy another midfielder in the transfer window.

Albion man of the match: Paul Robinson --never gives up and his first goal for the club was deserved reward for a string of gutsy performances.