Kevin Phillips hit top form when his team needed it the most as Sunderland struck back from the dead to grab a priceless point at The Hawthorns with a 2-2 draw with West Brom.
Phillips' two second-half strikes allowed his side to hold onto their precarious perch above Albion in the Premiership basement.
The former England man had scored just one league goal all season and his dip in form had raised questions about his future at the Stadium of Light.
But his goals sealed a remarkable turnaround for Howard Wilkinson's troops after they had been outplayed by gritty Albion in the first half.
Phillips threw his side their unlikely lifeline when he poked his side's opener past Russell Hoult early in the second half.
Then he capped his comeback with a brilliant 65th-minute equaliser which suggested he could soon be back to his goal-getting best.
He cut in from the left and beat both Larus Sigurdsson and Darren Moore before cutting a tight shot past Hoult and into the the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
The drama was not quite over as Phillips was inches from sealing an astonishing hat-trick four minutes later.
Substitute David Bellion crossed from point-blank range and but the ball just evaded Phillips' stretching right leg.
Sunderland's heroic victory over Liverpool had seemed like a distant memory during a first half which Albion dominated.
Gary Megson had set his side a target of eight more wins this season for survival and must have been ticking this one off after the first half hour.
Now he faces a headache in how to raise his team ahead of a festive programme which brings both Arsenal and Manchester United to town.
Jason Koumas looked set to be Albion's saviour in a game which Hoult had labelled one of the most important in their history.
The £2.5million man from Tranmere teed up the 26th-minute opener for Daniele Dichio then blasting home a magnificent 32nd-minute free-kick.
Albion had shown their attacking intentions from the start and produced a first half-hour as good as anything they have produced all season.
Jason Roberts almost harried Phil Babb into a seventh minute mistake when he headed past his own goalkeeper Jurgen Macho and out for a corner.
But it was the visitors who almost stole the lead in the eighth minute when Tore Andre Flo beat Roberts on the right before firing a low shot which deflected off Moore and clattered the base of Hoult's left-hand post.
Then Gavin McCann teed up a powerful left-foot effort which Hoult brilliantly turned around his post.
Roberts was inches from connecting with a Koumas free-kick at point-blank range as Albion launched into a spell of dominance which ought have have sealed three priceless points.
Roberts came close from Dichio's headed through ball then fired a 25-yard effort high over Macho's bar.
Andy Johnson's crashing 30-yard volley was parried out for corner by Macho just before Koumas' pinpoint corner from the right led to Dichio's opening goal.
It was the second goal of the season for a striker still on the transfer list after struggling to impress Megson.
When Koumas banged home his brilliant opener which left Macho rooted to his goalline the home side should have had the points in the bag.
Kevin Kilbane lofted a terrible shot high over Hoult's unguarded net as the visitors ended the first period with a whimper.
But Howard Wilkinson's half-time introduction of Bellion had the desired effect of injecting some vigour into his beleaguered front line.
It was still an Albion mistake which handed the visitors their lifeline, when Sean Gregan failed to deal with Kilbane's hopeful through-ball and Phillips nipped in to poke the ball past Hoult.
Phillips grabbed his brilliant second and ought to have sealed an unlikely treble moments later when Bellion stole in unmarked at the far post to knock Kilbane's free-kick across goal and almost find the on-fire front man.
Sunderland boss Howard Wilkinson believes Kevin Phillips may have saved his
side's season at the Hawthorns today.
The Black Cats were heading towards another abject defeat when Phillips struck
two second-half goals and grabbed a priceless point.
Wilkinson said: 'Today was crucial. If we'd lost today - or at least if we
hadn't shown that we could come back - I think we would have been dead.
'But we got it by the throat, and today was a very significant 45 minutes for
'It would have been a long, hard road. We needed to show ourselves we could
do it today, because I can't remember the last time we made a comeback like
Wilkinson praised Phillips for his fighting qualities after a season in which
he had only found the net once and had been coping with plenty of speculation
about his future.
Wilkinson insisted: 'Kevin Phillips' last two years have been surrounded by
speculation. But he is not being sold. I might be daft - but I'm not that daft.
'It hasn't been easy for him, but last Sunday he showed he was getting back
to his old self. Today was coming, and I hope it was the start of another good
run for him.'
Albion boss Gary Megson blasted his side for throwing away their chance to
move out of the relegation zone.
He was particularly unhappy with the space afforded to Phillips which allowed
Sunderland to storm back into the match.
Megson said: 'The second goal was the worst - we let a guy who had won the
Golden Boot a couple of years ago go strolling across the 18-yard line.
'It has unfortunately become a feature of our season so far. We threw away
the Bolton and Aston Villa games, and I knew at half-time we were either going
to win or throw it away again.
'Our first-half performance was terrific, but we didn't keep the momentum
'We've got to dust ourselves off now, but it is going to take some getting
over. This was a desperately disappointing result for us.'