West Brom inflicted a third consecutive defeat on Sunderland at the Hawthorns and the men in red and white have only themselves to blame. Wasteful in front of goal and desperately poor at the back, the Wearsiders were second best on the day and deserved to lose but had they not gifted Albion their second, Martin O'Neill's men may well have come away with a much needed point.
Sunderland were the better side for the opening 20 minutes or so, knocking the ball around confidently and precisely. Sessegnon started on the right, with Johnson on the left and it was the Benin international who won a corner that almost led to the opening goal. Whipped in by Johnson, John O'Shea's header was kept out but the Irishman was adamant it had crossed the line. The officials disagreed and the game remained 0-0.
Sunderland had the better of a scrappy opening but there were ominous signs on the odd occasion the home side put together attacks. Lukaku was already proving to be a menace, bullying Sunderland and a poor header wide from a Ridgewell cross was merely a warning of what lay ahead.
However, it was Sunderland who carved open the first real chance in the 24th minute. Some great support work by Graham resulted in a fine left footed strike by Steven Fletcher hitting the far post. The Scottish striker side footed the ball looking for precision and was unlucky not to score. The attack didn't end there though, as Johnson closed down Steven Reid and his block fell to Danny Graham who was denied by Foster in the Albion goal. The ball rebounded to Steven Fletcher who ballooned the ball over the bar.
It was to be the end of Sunderland as an attacking force in the first half. Within 2 minutes West Brom had their act together and should really have taken the lead. Mulumbu failed to connect with a left wing cross properly when he should have scored. Lukaku was instrumental in the build-up to that chance and minutes later he had the ball in the back of the net. Luckily for Sunderland the referee had blown the whistle for an infringement on the edge of the box. Had he not, Sunderland would have been 1-0 down. The subsequent free kick was smacked into the wall by Steven Reid. Another let off.
The man on loan from Chelsea wouldn't have to wait much longer to open his account for the afternoon. In the 33rd minute, Gardner was adjudged to have handled a cross from the West Brom left. It looked harsh. The Brummie full back was only a few yards away from the ball and his arm was stuck out as he jumped. Despite Sunderland protestations, Lukaku put the ball on the spot and comfortably beat his countryman Mignolet, stroking the ball home.
Naturally, West Brom were lifted by the goal. Bramble fouled Long and the Irishman should have done better when the ball was swung in from the resulting free kick. Sunderland were let off again as he headed over when criminally left free in the box. By contrast, Sunderland had a free kick on the half way line, which was chucked into the box only for a red and white shirt to be caught offside.
West Brom continued to threaten. Long headed over again while Sunderland's defenders continued to struggle with Lukaku. The Black Cats did muster a chance before the end of the half though. Some good play by Gardner down the right led to Fletcher picking the ball up deep and spreading it wide to Johnson. The winger twisted and turned before shooting. The block looked like handball. There wasn't too much difference between this incident and the one that led to the West Brom penalty but Sunderland's luck was out. In truth, Sunderland were probably fortunate not to find themselves further behind by half time.
Sunderland began the second half as they had started the first and looked bright for the opening 10 minutes. Stephane Sessegnon should really have done better at the back post following a Sebastian Larsson corner flicked on by John O'Shea. With the goal gaping he was caught by surprise and his instinctive left foot effort went to the far post and was cleared by Mulumbu. Had he connected properly, he would surely have scored.
This spell of dominance continued and N'Diaye swung a lovely ball over in the 55th minute but Danny Graham was unable to connect properly on the stretch. This was followed by a poor Steven Fletcher effort after good build up play. He struck a tame effort from outside the box, which was easily blocked by the West Brom defence when Adam Johnson was in acres of space to his left. Not long after, a great cross from Gardner just evaded Danny Graham.
Meanwhile West Brom continued to dominate in the air with Olsson heading over from a free kick. Titus Bramble's poor afternoon showed no signs of ending and he was perhaps lucky to escape a second booking on the hour. Given what was to follow later, his dismissal might actually have assisted Sunderland.
More sloppy play from Sunderland presented more chances for the dangerous Lukaku. A poor ball from Bramble was easily taken away from a surprised Larsson and the Belgian shrugged off Gardner's challenge before lashing a shot at Mignolet who saved well. In fairness to Titus, he made an excellent block on 68 minutes after more excellent West Brom build up play. Morrison would almost certainly have scored if it wasn't for Bramble's presence and challenge.
At the other end the enigmatic Sessegnon went on a mazy run before crossing from the left. Unfortunately it looped up off the defender's challenge missing Sunderland's strikers. Johnson failed to control on the edge of the box and the attack ended.
It was to be Sunderland's last foray forward before West Brom extended their lead to 2-0. O'Shea dove in on Lukaku who easily scampered away from him. The ball ended up with Bramble who played a shockingly under hit back pass in the direction of Mignolet. Lukaku raced after it and Mignolet's attempted clearance crashed back off the West Brom striker and into the net. A disaster for Sunderland.
Sunderland then brought on McClean and Vaughan for Johnson and Larsson. Both would have an impact in the closing stages but it was Sessegnon who had Sunderland's next chance, showing more brilliant dribbling skills before firing through legs only to see his shot well saved by Foster.
It would be the Benin international who scored Sunderland's only goal of the afternoon in the 79th minute. James McClean had already had a positive impact up until this point and his run and cross eventually found its way to the edge of the box. Sessegnon placed a lovely shot - with a hint of a deflection - past Ben Foster. Sunderland were back in it with 10 minutes still to play.
More good attacking play from Sunderland soon after resulted in a Sessegnon shot being smashed over the bar from outside the box. From the sublime to the awful in the space of the 3 minutes. West Brom were a constant threat at the other end and another piece of bad defending from Bramble - this time a weak headed clearance - led to a cracking Brunt shot, which was superbly saved by Mignolet.
Odemwingie had come on for Lukaku to some boos from the home fans and almost scored for West Brom. This being Sunderland, it was a surprise his left foot shot crept wide rather than into the bottom corner.
In the 89th minute Vaughan had a decent shot saved by Foster but it was left to James McClean to miss Sunderland's last and best chance. In the final minute of added on time he blazed over the bar. Despite generally having a positive impact, it's this lack of quality that lets the Irishman down all too often.
Another defeat then and a result that leaves Sunderland just 5 points above the bottom 3 and in need of an improved performance and 3 points against Fulham at the Stadium of Light next weekend.
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