West Brom continue to fly high

West Bromwich’s Albion dream season continued as they moved up
to third in the Premier League following a 4-2 win over Sunderland
at the Stadium of Light.

Zoltan Gera’s brilliant strike, a dreadful blunder by Sunderland
goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, which gifted Shane Long a goal, Romelu
Lukaku’s penalty and Marc-Antoine Fortune’s late finish gave Steve
Clarke’s side the points despite Craig Gardner’s free-kick and
Stephane Sessegnon’s late tap-in having given the home fans
something to cheer.

The win pushed West Brom above Chelsea, who host Manchester City
in Rafa Benitez’s first game in interim charge on Sunday, on to a
total of 26 points from 13 games in what is emerging as an
unexpectedly successful campaign.

In contrast, defeat for Sunderland added to the pressure on
Martin O’Neill, which had only been temporarily lifted with last
weekend’s win at Fulham, and the Black Cats have now still won just
one home game this season to leave them languishing close to the
relegation zone.

The match’s first real talking point came in the 20th minute
when relieved Sunderland defender John O’Shea thought he had been
shown a second yellow for a challenge on Long only to realise his
Republic of Ireland team-mate had been harshly booked for
diving.

Boaz Myhill was then fortunate not to be punished when the West
Brom goalkeeper only palmed a header from Sessegnon, clearly full
of confidence after his spectacular goal at Fulham, back into the
danger zone.

But, in the 30th minute, Sunderland paid the price for their
missed chances as Gera gave West Brom the lead by curling an
excellent, left-footed, 25-yard effort past Mignolet, who could
only brush his fingertips against the ball.

Mignolet and Sunderland’s problems deepened one minute before
half-time when the goalkeeper made an embarrassing hash of dealing
with Chris Brunt’s harmless, over-hit through-ball, allowing Long
to pounce and walk the ball into the open net.

O’Neill, who had lost captain Lee Cattermole to injury in the
first half, made another change at half-time and sent on James
McClean in place of O’Shea, with Phil Bardsley moving to
centre-back and Sebastian Larsson shifting to right-back.

But West Brom continued to look a threat on the counter-attack
and Mignolet had to partly atone for his earlier blunder by saving
a one-on-one with Long when rushing off his line to block the
striker.

Sunderland, though, were back in the game in the 73rd minute
when Gardner, who returned from suspension as a replacement for
Cattermole, hit a free-kick and saw it deflect off the wall to beat
Myhill.

The strike lifted Sunderland’s spirits but it was short-lived as
substitute Lukaku’s 81st minute penalty, after Liam Ridgewell had
gone down somewhat softly under a challenge from Adam Johnson, and
Fortune’s injury-time goal sandwiched Sessegnon’s close-range
finish at a corner.

Sunderland Team Statistics West Bromwich Albion
2 Goals 4
0 1st Half Goals 2
10 Shots on Target 6
7 Shots off Target 6
3 Blocked Shots 2
7 Corners 2
12 Fouls 16
2 Offsides 1
2 Yellow Cards 3
0 Red Cards 0
83.4 Passing Success 83.4
17 Tackles 20
70.6 Tackles Success 65
49 Possession 51
49.5 Territorial Advantage 50.5
428 Total Passes 469
34 Total Crosses 12
140 Lost Balls 137
49 Recoveries 58
48.6 1st Half Poss. 51.4
47 2nd Half Poss. 53