West Bromwich Albion 1 Everton 0
Of Bryan Robson's many missions when he took over as manager of West Bromwich Albion last November, the two most obvious were also the most difficult.
First, he had to restore the club's self-respect after the wretched conclusion to the Gary Megson era. Second, he had to ensure that the team would avoid relegation.
Robson has succeeded on one count - Albion is, mercifully, back in love with itself - and, after a deserved victory against Everton at The Hawthorns yesterday, the fight against relegation has become that little bit easier.
Albion are still sitting precariously in the bottom three but only goal difference separates them from Southampton, who occupy 17th position. Most importantly, it is Albion who boast the momentum.
The 1-0 win, secured with a fine headed goal by Zoltan Gera in the 63rd minute, owed as much to a poor display by Everton as it did to Albion's fortitude, but that did not detract from the postmatch celebrations.
There is a feeling in the air that Albion have all the necessary attributes to survive for at least another Premiership season. For once, the Premiership table that shows Albion in 18th position is fabricating.
It would be wrong to say that this was a fluent display and there are no causes for concern. The first half, with both teams short of their best, was forgettable, apart from when Thomas Gaardsoe headed the ball against the crossbar; it was only when Albion took the lead that the tempo increased.
By the end, however, there was a perception that Albion had more chance of scoring a second goal than Everton did of an equaliser. Indeed, Martin Albrechtsen hit a post for the hosts after fine play by Kieran Richardson.
With Gaardsoe and Neil Clement remaining solid at the heart of the Albion defender, and Paul Robinson particularly impressive at
left-back, it was difficult to see how Everton could score.
In midfield, where Everton are normally so strong, it was Gera, Keiran Richardson and Jonathan Greening who
assumed control for Albion. Indeed, it was from a cross by Greening on the left side that Gera was able to climb and head the winning goal.
"It is always nice to be involved in a goal as important as that," Greening said. "It was an important goal, a good goal and one that will give us so much hope for the rest of the season."
And so it should. For, while Albion have a difficult final seven matches, they seem to have acquired a confidence that is rare for a team fighting against relegation. It was obvious on the pitch and all around The Hawthorns.
It helps having a player as versatile and unpredictable as Gera. More famous in his native Hungary than he is in
the Premiership, he has nevertheless become an important figure and the subject of interest from clubs such as Aston Villa.
"Jonathan Greening put in a great cross and I got a good header," Gera said in his broken but improving English. "This was a big, hard game. The team was fantastic. I am very tired but it was a good result."
It was the type of result that seemed impossible a month ago. In those days, Albion were playing well and losing. Then, they started to play well and draw. Now, they are playing well and winning.
The fear was that they would leave it too late - teams in trouble usually do - but there are seven matches remaining and the battle to avoid relegation is now in their own hands.
If you can make Everton look ordinary, you have every reason to believe that better times lie ahead. Everton are in fourth position, Albion in 18th, but you would not have known that there was such a chasm between the teams.
Some would say that it is a sign of weakness within the Premiership but it might also be a sign of strength. This, after all, is Albion's best team since 1982, which says a lot for the strength of the English game.
Albion have now won four and drawn two of their past eight Premiership matches, which is a sign of the momentum that is required to win such a battle.
It will be difficult. Southampton, with a superior goaldifference, have what appears to be an easier run-in and they also have the benefit of a new manager with new ideas. It is Portsmouth who appear to have the most significant problems, for they lost their momentum weeks ago.
But these issues change quickly. It was only three months ago, when Albion lost by heavy scores to Birmingham City and Liverpool, that they were written off as relegation material. Now they are playing like a top-ten team - and looking good for it.
Scorer: Gera (63), 1-0.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Hoult; Albrechtsen (Scimeca, 89), Gaardsoe, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Wallwork, Richardson (Moore, 86), Greening; Campbell, Horsfield. Substitutes not used: Chaplow, Kanu, Earnshaw.
EVERTON (4-5-1): Martyn; Hibbert, Stubbs (Watson, 85), Weir, Pistone (Yobo, 45), Osman, Carsley (Ferguson, 75), Arteta, Cahill, Kilbane; Bent. Substitutes not used: Wright, Plessis.
Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire). Bookings: Albion - Richardson (foul); Everton - Arteta (dissent), Cahill (foul). Attendance: 26,805.
Albion man of the match: Paul Robinson - a tenacious display that summed up the performance of Albion. Clement, Greening, Gera and Campbell pushed him close. Joseph Yobo (left), of Everton, battles with Jonathan Greening ..SUPL: