Six hours into the Premier League season Albion got one monkey off their back. Next the Baggies must shake off another on Saturday to prevent a sticky start to the new campaign from becoming a major concern.
Gareth McAuley’s thunderous 92nd-minute header at Craven Cottage handed Steve Clarke’s side the point they deserved.
And it gave Albion their first league goal of a season that has yet to take off.
Now they have to hope the dramatic nature of McAuley’s leveller serves to galvanise a side that is still missing its mojo – and preferably before they return to action at The Hawthorns on Saturday looking still for their first victory.
Because while the meeting with rock-bottom Sunderland comes just five games into Clarke’s second season at the helm, it already looks like a pivotal fixture for the boss and his team.
With Manchester United and Arsenal on the horizon after the visit of Paolo Di Canio’s struggling outfit – followed by a two-week international break – Saturday’s game looks like the Baggies’ best chance of landing three points between now and mid-October.
And while Saturday’s events on the banks of the Thames gave the head coach some signs of encouragement, there remain some big issues to address.
Chief among Clarke’s dilemmas will be the form of Nicolas Anelka and the possibility of omitting his big-name summer signing from the biggest game of the season so far.
After an eye-catching pre-season campaign, the veteran Frenchman has been unable to impose his will on high-tempo top-flight games so far and, as Clarke plans for Saturday’s showdown, he must be asking himself whether the 34-year-old currently warrants his place in the starting line-up.
With deadline-day business giving the head coach fresh attacking options to conjure with, the possibility of James Morrison or Stephane Sessegnon taking over from Anelka at the weekend will surely cross the Scot’s mind in the days ahead.
Because Saturday’s was another performance in which Anelka struggled to make his mark.
There were moments of promise; some neat touches and one burst of pace that took him behind the Fulham backline that might have brought him his first competitive Baggies goal.
But with his presence reducing the energy levels in Clarke’s forward line and taking Morrison out of the areas he does most damage, some genuine moments of Anelka magic are required as a trade-off.
So far, they have been in short supply.
Elsewhere, though, there were one or two reasons to smile.
After work permit delays prevented Sessegnon making his debut, a lower profile deadline-day recruit caught the eye in a pleasing debut as Morgan Amalfitano announced his arrival with a bright first-half display.
His combination of graft and dangerous delivery was one of several bright spots that made Albion’s fourth league outing of the season at least a little more encouraging than the previous three.
Another was the excellent return to the starting line-up of captain Chris Brunt, whose probing, clever use of the ball from his favoured role wide on the left gave the Baggies a touch more direction in their opponents’ half.
It might just be coincidence that Clarke’s side began to have shots at goal and look a shade more threatening on the day Brunt returned to the side.
But a more rational explanation is that the Northern Ireland international still makes Albion a better side, both in open play and with set-piece deliveries, one of which eventually brought the decisive goal.
Yet still there were many ingredients missing in an Albion team lacking the basic attacking spark that was propelling them up the table a year ago.
Youssouf Mulumbu and a flat-looking Claudio Yacob appear lacking in a little creativity without Morrison ahead of them to link things up.
And with loanee Scott Sinclair still striving for form and fitness after a year with little first-team action at Manchester City, the Baggies lack players to run at defenders with confidence.
Nevertheless, they gave as good as they got for much of the opening half with Victor Anichebe looking willing and energetic at the point of their attack. However, they found themselves behind midway through the half when they failed to deal effectively enough with a left-wing corner and it dropped for Steve Sidwell to volley home on the turn off the hand of Boaz Myhill, who appeared to be impeded by Mulumbu’s presence on the line.
Brunt went close with a long-range shot and am ambitious free-kick that nestled in the side netting.
The classy Dimitar Berbatov was always a threat and, after having one goal chalked off for a blatant offside before the break, he went close three times after the interval.
Firstly a more marginal decision by the linesman denied him, then Myhill thwarted him low down and finally he volleyed acrobatically narrowly over.
But the Baggies pressed with spirit and ended the game on the front foot.
They could have levelled when Brunt fed Anichebe, who fired too close to David Stockdale. And they should have equalised when Anichebe teed up Anelka but he failed to get a shot away.
Eventually the pressure paid off, though, and two minutes into stoppage time McAuley followed two goals in as many games for Northern Ireland by steaming onto Brunt’s corner and powering a header into the net.
It was reward for a purposeful team effort on a day when Albion took a small step in the right direction.
But it still posed as many questions as it answered just a week before a very big occasion.
By Steve Madeley