West Bromwich Albion 1 Manchester United 2

The business end of the season has arrived and once again it looks like West Bromwich Albion's fight for survival will go right down to the wire.

Defeat at home to Manchester United has left them in a precarious position just above the relegation zone, and with Portsmouth comfortably beating a second-string West Ham United side the Baggies' three-point cushion is looking increasingly fragile.

For the second season running, Bryan Robson's side may have to rely on others to slip up to preserve their place in the top flight.

Immediately below them are Birmingham City, but Steve Bruce's side still have a game in hand and with both clubs on equal goal difference, any kind of win for the Blues would send Albion into the bottom three.

Both sides though have much harder run-ins than a resurgent Portsmouth, and with games against Liverpool and Arsenal, as well as a trip to Villa Park to come, Albion securing survival this season may be a greater triumph than last time around.

That survival though will be entirely dependent on Robson fixing the frailties that continue to plague his side. Last week it was an inability to score; this week it was an inability to defend which cost Robson's side three points. Not that Albion looked like scoring either.

The power and the pace that United bring to a game are always going to cause the opposition problems, but the home side contributed to their own downfall with a generally lacklustre performance.

It wasn't until Nathan Ellington's goal 12 minutes from time that Albion put the visitors under any kind of pressure and by then of course it was too late.

Two goals from Louis Saha had effectively ended the game as a contest, and while Ellington's header set up a frantic finish, Albion were always struggling to find a way through.

For their part United were not at their best, but they didn't need to be. The pace of Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Wayne Rooney proved more than enough to deal with Albion's limited side.

The visitors should have won by more, but a combination of wayward finishing, some fine goalkeeping by Tomasz Kuszczak, and last-ditch defending from Steve Watson and Paul Robinson kept the scoreline respectable.

In a dominant performance, the speed of United's attack often left Albion's players chasing shadows, and while former Manchester United midfielder Ronnie Wallwork did his best to stem the tide, and another former United player Jonathan Greening did his best to open the visitors up, the pair were let down by the rest.

Jan Kozak, in a five-man midfield, might as well have been on the bench for all the commitment that he showed, and the normally reliable Curtis Davies had a day he's likely to want to forget.

Caught woefully out of position for United's second, he and the rest of the Albion defence went missing for the visitors' first. Saha was left unmarked from a corner and headed United in front after just 16 minutes.

"It was a shocking goal to give away in the Premiership," said Robson.

"Once United get in front they are always going to make things difficult. When they start to play their counterattacking football, that's when they are at their best.

"It was a poor goal to give away so early on in the game. For the rest of the game we kept going to a certain degree and tried to force the issue. But it was only when we scored our goal near the end that we put any real pressure on them."

The home side did show flashes of intent, but with Kevin Campbell operating as a lone striker they were limited to set pieces and the odd run from Diomansy Kamara.

Kamara, in fact, came closest to dragging Albion level, his 35-yard free kick brought an outstanding save from Edwin Van Der Sar in the United goal minutes before the break. Davies also forced the Dutchman to make a flying save from the resulting corner, but that was as close as Robson's side got in the first half.

The second followed a similar pattern. United broke at will, Rooney and Ronaldo tore Albion apart, and Saha grabbed a predictable second. Ellington's goal gave the game an exciting finish, but was never likely to change the outcome.