A penny for the thoughts of Steve Clarke as Albion put their fans through the wringer at Upton Park.
Perhaps a wry smile crept across the former boss’s face, as Nicolas Anelka finally contributed to the Baggies’ cause a couple of weeks too late to help the man for whom his earlier failures proved so costly.
When Saido Berahino capped a fine performance with a fabulous goal, maybe there was a tinge of regret for Clarke at his reluctance to let the youngster off the leash more often.
As Albion fell 1-0 down early on and 3-2 behind in the second half, there might have been a hint of relief that he could sit and watch without the agony of emotional involvement. But when they turned the game around to lead 2-1, then snatched a dramatic late equaliser and so nearly claimed the win, maybe Clarke longed a little for the thrill of being in the dugout.
One thing is certain, afterwards, when French Twittersphere went berserk over Anelka’s ill-judged goal celebration, we can be sure Clarke was delighted to be nowhere near the media firestorm ignited by the striker, who let him down so badly after his show of faith in the summer.
A penny, too, for the thoughts of Clarke’s potential successors now No.1 contender Pepe Mel appears to have fallen by the wayside in the increasingly lengthy race for the job.
On one hand, those candidates taking a watching brief on Saturday must have been encouraged by the spirit in the Baggies’ camp, and by the talent some of their attacking players showed in scoring three goals in the East End.
The sight of Berahino flourishing in his preferred central position and Anelka finally making his presence felt will doubtless encourage whoever gets the job.
Yet the defending that allowed a very poor Hammers side to net three goals of their own might well give potential bosses nightmares, as they contemplate a fight against relegation on the back of a January transfer window which seems unlikely to see much change to the Hawthorns squad.
And the furore that followed Anelka’s actions surely had the candidates wondering if life in the glare of the Premier League spotlight would be worth all the hassle, regardless of the healthy pay packet that awaits the new boss.
That was the final, taxing issue on a draining day for Keith Downing.
And yet the caretaker head coach, who could hold the reins for a while longer as the Baggies move on from the Mel saga, seemed to enjoy himself once again as his side took everyone on a breathless rollercoaster of emotions on a highly-charged lunchtime in London.
Downing certainly had reasons to smile.
His recalling of Anelka two months after his last appearance paid off handsomely when it might have backfired spectacularly. So, too, did the decision to field Berahino for the first time as an orthodox centre-forward and the restoration of captain Chris Brunt to the midfield.
But there were other reminders that life in the big chair is not a bed of roses, as Downing watched his team’s defending exploited all too easily as the omission of Claudio Yacob left his three centre-backs without much-needed protection.
The continued show of faith in a three-man central defence also worked against him as two games in three days proved too much for the rash Diego Lugano and the Irons’ midfield runners turned out to be harder to cope with than Tottenham’s orthodox front two on Boxing Day.
Credit to Downing, though, for the second-half change that saw Lugano withdrawn, a back-four restored and Albion placed on the front foot and eventually claiming the point which was the least they deserved from a thriller of a contest.
The signs did not look promising for Downing and Co when they fell behind just four minutes into the game as Lugano chased the ball, Joe Cole exchanged passes with Kevin Nolan and darted in to open the scoring with aplomb.
And they might have been killed off when a Carlton Cole knock-down found Guy Demel in a promising position, but they were reprieved when his shot struck Ben Foster’s left-hand upright.
Yet the Baggies turned the game on its head in six minutes at the end of the first half. In the 40th minute Youssouf Mulumbu found Brunt, who produced a wonderful, early through-ball with the outside of his foot to send Anelka clear and allow the Frenchman a cool finish.
Then Jonas Olsson’s header from a Brunt corner was blocked on the line with Anelka forcing home the rebound.
From nowhere, Albion led at the break.
Anelka fired too close to Jussi Jaaskelainen early in the second half from a Billy Jones cross and Berahino bent a cross-shot just wide as the Baggies chased the goal that might have killed off their hosts.
Then, suddenly, two goals in three minutes saw the Hammers transform the game.
Foster had just made a fine save to deny Modibo Maiga when the Baggies keeper made a howler, allowing the half-time substitute’s strike to sneak past him for an equaliser after more poor defending. And then, with disappointment still raw, Maiga headed down Mark Noble’s cross and Nolan forced the ball home for a 3-2 lead.
Yet just two more minutes had passed before Brunt fed Berahino, who made a mug of Demel and blasted a perfect cross-shot home off the far post to level things.
And with nine minutes remaining, Brunt was fouled on the edge of the area and Berahino’s excellent free-kick whacked against the woodwork.
It left Albion delighted with a point yet frustrated that a chance for all three had gone begging. In many ways, it was a fitting way to end a year that has included so many highs and its fair share of lows.
For Clarke, it was a day for reflection. For Downing, it was a game of thrills.
And for the new boss, it was a fascinating window on the challenge he faces.Subscribe to our Newsletter