CHAMPIONSHIP: West Bromwich Albion 4 Colchester United 3
When Neil Clement checked out of The Hawthorns to join Hull City on loan a little over a month ago, he looked to have played his last game for West Bromwich Albion.
Yet right now, he's looking forward to enjoying a renaissance at the heart of the team's defence; this crucial win underlined just how important he might be to Tony Mowbray during the promotion run-in, starting with tomorrow evening's trip to Cardiff City.
The Baggies might have won 4-3 thanks to two late goals from James Morrison and Roman Bednar, but you can't help feeling that there is a sadistic streak in the Albion set-up which intends to drag every supporter through the mill during the final weeks of the season.
On paper, it was one of Albion's easiest challenges of the season - playing a team who had been brushed aside by Norwich City the previous week and were clinging on for dear life in 24th place in the Championship. Yet Albion made hard work of it, thanks to three awfully preventable goals and that is where Clement comes in.
The Baggies were let down by their inability to defend three crosses into the box and the club's current longest-serving player is relishing the prospect of putting that right; not least as he feared for his own career just a few months ago following a spate of injuries, not to mention his mid-to-long term Hawthorns' prospects.
"I was pleased to go to Hull, not so much to prove people wrong, but because I had such a bad injury and when that happens there are always doubts in your own mind about how it's going to be," said Clement, who joined the club from Chelsea in 2000 following a brief loan spell.
"It did cross my mind that it might not happen for me again, but I went on loan with a view to getting match-fit, coming back and giving it a crack here. We were sloppy on Saturday against a team who, with all due respect, have been on the end of a few hidings this season.
"The main thing is that we learn from the mistakes we made and make sure we don't repeat them against Cardiff. We are still in touch and we still have a game in hand."
Tony Mowbray's promotion chasers started brightly enough, dominating early possession. The arrival of a goal seemed a matter of time and that proved correct - but for the wrong team.
Colchester scored in the 15th minute when a quickly-taken free-kick was only part-cleared by Zoltan Gera. His header sent the ball looping back into the box, allowing Chris Coyne to turn it in acrobatically.
Their second goal came just a minute later and, again, was a result of poor goalkeeping by Dean Kiely and some woeful defending from the men in front of him. Phil Ifil's cross was punched clear by Kiely but only went as far as
Mady Elito, whose drive flew past the stranded 37-year-old and into the roof of the Albion net.
However, Mowbray's men refused to give up and they got their reward when Kevin Phillips finished off Carl Hoefkens' right-wing cross in the 36th minute. Three minutes later came Albion's equaliser when Chris Brunt peeled across the pitch and slotted a cool left-footed shot to beat Dean Gerken from some 25 yards.
But it was Colchester who threw Albion's gameplan into disarray with their third of the afternoon in the 76th minute when the home side failed to deal with a corner and allowed Kevin Lisbie to poke the ball home from close range.
The Baggies got some reward in the 90th minute. Morrison drove forward and smashed a low shot which Gerken allowed to slip by him into his near post. And as automatic promotion appeared to be slipping away, in came Roman Bednar to finish off Brunt's cross.
Albion deserved their victory and should have made easier work of it, with Mowbray conceding that defensive frailties were once again to blame.
"The way we are defending is a huge disappointment because I know we can't be successful and achieve what we want to if we keep defending like that," said Mowbray. "There is a lot of work to be done on the training ground, which we've been saying all season.
"Is it going to be our Achilles heel come the end of the season? I would suggest, if we don't find the improvement, it might well be. There were far too many negatives today for me to say 'well done, great.'
"It gets to a point where ultimately, if this group of players can't keep the ball out of the back of the net, I'll have to get some in who can."
Scorers: Coyne (14) 0-1; Elito (16) 0-2; Phillips (36) 1-2; Brunt (39) 2-2; Lisbie (76) 2-3; Morrison (90) 3-3, Bednar (90+3) 4-3.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2, 3-4-3): Kiely; Hoefkens (Miller 71), Albrechtsen, Cesar (Clement HT), Robinson; Gera, Koren (Morrison 76), Greening, Brunt; Bednar, Phillips. Subs: Kim, Pele.
COLCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): Gerken; Ifil, Baldwin (Virgo 5), Coyne, White; Hammond, Jackson, Duguid, Elito (Izzet HT); Platt (Vernon 62), Lisbie. Subs: Cousins (gk), Balogh. Bookings: Albion - Bednar (unsportsmanlike conduct). Colchester - Coyne (foul).
Referee: Graham Laws (Tyne & Wear).