Albion moved up to third (and nosebleed territory) with their fourth consecutive victory after the enthralling encounter at the Stadium of Light in the lunchtime kick off, although their third, and ultimately the deciding, goal came from a controversial decision by Mike Dean to award a penalty.
Martin O’Neill chose an unchanged side after the Black Cats recorded their first away victory at Fulham last week, Phil Bardsley and Lee Cattermole shaking off knocks picked up in the Craven Cottage clash. Craig Gardner returned to the match-day squad.
Steve Clarke opted for regular Gareth McAuley over stand in Gabriel Tamas after the defender returned from a hamstring injury. Captain Chris Brunt started in place of injured Youssouf Mulumbu and Boaz Myhill continued in goal for the recovering Ben Foster.
It was a slow start to the game. One could sense that both teams were getting to grips with each other, Adam Johnson of Sunderland and Peter Odemwingie of West Brom tested their opposing keepers from distance without causing problems.
The 16th minute offered the first real chance on goal- although Claudio Yacob probably didn’t know too much about it. A corner came in which Jonas Olsson couldn’t connect with, and it fell to the Argentine who headed over from a matter of yards.
The first real move of quality came from the hosts. Danny Rose played Johnson in, the winger then flicked the ball onto Stephane Sessegnon, who chipped the ball over McAuley and fired in a shot that Myhill turned round the post.
On 20 Shane Long went down under a challenge from John O’Shea who had already been booked and referee Dean took his yellow card out again- but Long was penalised for simulation. O’Shea had initially made for the exit believing it was he who was about to earn his marching orders, and the replay showed that there was contact.
In the same way Myhill had an individual duel with Daniel Sturridge of Chelsea last week, the Welshman seemed to be stopping Sessegnon at all costs, this time pushing away a header from the Mackems’ midfielder as a result of a corner.
The Baggies took the lead on the half hour mark as a result of some sloppy play from the hosts. Johnson’s touch was too heavy and he saw the ball taken away from him by Odemwingie. The Nigerian went on to play Zoltan Gera in and the Hungarian hit a rasping left footed strike from 25 yards beyond the stretching Mignolet.
This served as a wake up call for the Black Cats, immediate pressure on the visitors’ area ensued and resulted in O’Shea curling an effort just wide of the far corner. Lee Cattermole was soon to be replace by Craig Gardner, the captain seemingly aggravating the injury sustained a fortnight ago.
A wonderful individual effort was the home side’s final chance before half time. Sessegnon kept the ball in wide on the left before cutting inside and evading numerous challenges. The Benin international then unleashed a shot which deflected off a defender and Myhill collected.
A moment of madness followed on the stroke of half time. An inaccurate chip over the top from Brunt should have been routinely collected by Mignolet, but the Belgian spilt the ball to the probing Long who doubled his side’s lead.
Martin O’Neill was forced into a change at the break as John O’Shea required a replacement. James McClean was introduced, showing the attacking intent from the Wearsiders.
The home side started with more urgency as expected. Gardner’s run was impressive, but his cross was poor and Myhill dealt with it easily. Up the other end, Albion showed they were capable of adding to their lead when Morrison played Long through, but the onrushing Mignolet prevented a third. It was shaping up to be an entertaining 45 minutes.
The end-to-end style of play continued further into the half. Adam Johnson’s dipping shot from distance caught Myhill out and the keeper resorted to parrying the ball away with his upper arms. Meanwhile, Billy Jones went on a mazy run into the Sunderland box before being thwarted by an excellent tackle from Danny Rose.
Fletcher headed over from a Larsson corner and Morrison and Odemwingie both had chances to take long range shots on the counter for the Baggies, but challenges were put in to stop them. The home side were enjoying plenty of possession, as many teams do against Albion, but the defence were soaking up the pressure and releasing their pacey forwards on the break. Brunt had a cross shot that evaded the stretching Long and Odemwingie tried to tee up Morrison within a couple of minutes, but to no avail.
Odemwingie very nearly scored a belter from almost 30 yards, cutting in from the right once again and fizzing a left footed strike just beyond the far post. Steve Clarke immediately introduced duo Lukaku and Fortune in place of the hard-working Long and Odemwingie, hoping fresh legs would carry his side over the line. O’Neill gambled and threw on Louis Saha for Jack Colback.
There was a slightly fortuitous lifeline for the Mackems on 73. Craig Gardner’s long range free kick ricocheted off Marc-Antoine Fortune in the wall and the deflection carried the ball over the diving Myhill. A roar greeted the goal and hope was rekindled for the hosts.
Straight away Sessegnon had a shot pushed away by the in-form Myhill. But Albion were to regain their 2 goal lead on 80 minutes, albeit in fortunate circumstances. Liam Ridgewell was supposedly brought down in the area by Johnson, but replays showed that the left back went down without being touched. Nevertheless, substitute Lukaku dispatched the penalty with aplomb, the loanee notching his fourth of the season.
Sunderland wouldn’t lie down and with three minutes to go Myhill parried a header from a corner straight to Sessegnon who blasted his second of the season into the roof of the net from a couple of yards.
As the four minutes of stoppage time were signalled, the hosts threw everything at their visitors and were ultimately caught out in the final minute when Fortune finished coolly to round off a fantastic breakaway involving Lukaku and the outstanding Yacob.
A truly entertaining match with an outcome that means the Wearsiders remain 15th while the Baggies move up one to third.
Match ratings: SUN- Mignolet 5, Bardsley 6, O’Shea 5 (McClean 6), Cuellar 6, Rose 6, Larsson 7, Cattermole 5 (Gardner 6) Colback 5 (Saha 5), Sessegnon 7, Johnson 5, Fletcher 5
WBA- Myhill 6, Jones 6, McAuley 7, Olsson 7, Ridgewell 6, Yacob 8, Morrison 7 (Tamas 5), Brunt 6, Odemwingie 7 (Fortune 6), Gera 7, Long 7 (Lukaku 6)