End-of-season drama...34 years ago

The Goldstone (Photograph: Steve Daniels)
The Goldstone (Photograph: Steve Daniels)

Albion had been flirting with the drop zone from early November and the natives were getting restless.

Blackburn Rovers’ victory over Millwall has kept the Albion in the Championship for a record-breaking fifth consecutive season.

Let’s be honest, though: a relegation battle brings excitement - something that has been distinctly lacking for most of this turgid campaign.

Things were very different towards the end of 1980-81. Albion had been flirting with the drop zone from early November and the natives were getting restless.

Three straight defeats in seven days - including two FA Cup matches - to Manchester United at the turn of the year did nothing to boost morale. A consistent 19th place was maintained for three months and Alan Mullery’s men were on the verge of waving goodbye to the old First Division after just two seasons.

With four games remaining - two at home, two away - stripeless Albion were three points from safety. It was the last season of two points for a win, and eight were available...

The first fixture was with our friends from south London. It’s hard to believe, but Selhurst Park was even more of a tip in the early 1980s.

A disappointing crowd of 18,792 watched on helplessly as Gordon Smith and John Gregory (2), destroyed the "team of 1980s" 3-0 in their own backyard. Next up were Leicester City at the Goldstone.

Gary Lineker couldn’t do anything to stop Albion winning 2-1 - with Gregory, recently moved from right-back to midfield, again finding the target, alongside Michael Robinson.

The new Prince Regent swimming pool opened in the week of the penultimate game: a daunting trip to relegation threatened Sunderland who were two points, and places, above their guests. Robinson’s instinctive tap-in the 35th minute was met by an eerie silence. There were less than a coachload’s worth of Albion fans in attendance. The Mackems equalised before left-back Gary Williams stunned the famous Fulwell End with a perfect volley in the last minute!

Just under 28,000 fans crammed in the Goldstone to see if the winning streak would continue for the final game against Leeds United.

All Albion could do was get the two points, and then wait to see how their rivals had fared; Wolves had two games in hand. Makeshift striker Steve Foster settled the nerves before parading some silky skills to set up Andy Ritchie to secure the points with ten minutes left.

Wolves finished safe but Norwich City and Leicester went down - with Palace. A textbook end to the season!

They can’t all be like that.