STEVE Clarke gave his players the ultimate compliment after today’s unprecedented fourth successive Barclays Premier League win at Sunderland by declaring: “We were a joy to watch.”
First-half goals from Zoltan Gera and Shane Long put the Baggies in control at the Stadium of Light.
And they had chances to put the game out of sight before the Black Cats reduced the arrears through Craig Gardner’s deflected 74th-minute free-kick.
In a pulsating finale, sub Romelu Lukaku made it 3-1 from the spot seven minutes later before Sunderland again pegged Albion back through Stephane Sessegnon’s 87th-minute strike.
But another Baggies sub, Marc-Antoine Fortune, finally sealed a thoroughly deserved win for Clarke’s men with his first of the season in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Albion’s second successive away win has moved them up to the heady heights of third place – five points clear of fifth.
And Clarke insists his players deserve all of the plaudits that are coming their way after recording the club’s best start to a top-flight campaign in a staggering 59 years.
“We played really well,” said the head coach.
“Scoring four goals against any Premier League team is no easy feat and the players deserve all the credit they're getting.
“It's very difficult to win four games on the trot at this level – but we've achieved that.
“The way we passed the ball and controlled the possession, we were a joy to watch.
“I was really, really proud of the team as I was giving my half-time team talk because we were fantastic in the first half.
“All credit to Sunderland. They came out second half and had a go – as we knew they would.
“They put a lot of balls into our box and when we had to hang in there, we did. But we still created chances.
“It took a big slice of fortune for them to get back into the game.
“At 2-1, it started to look a little bit dangerous but we went up a gear again.
“Obviously, Sunderland had to come on to us in the second half but we knew we could pick them off on the counter-attack – and that’s what we did.
“We’re mentally strong. There was a little bit of pressure building at the end but we handled the period between being 3-2 up and 4-2 up, which was only a few minutes, very well.
“We were still a threat going forward and still looking for the goal that would kill the game.
“We’ve said all along we’ve got great strikers and forward players at the club. We know if we get enough of the ball we’ll create chances.”
TV replays showed that Albion got the rub of the green in being awarded an 81st-minute penalty following Adam Johnson’s alleged foul on Liam Ridgewell.
But Clarke says his team’s impressive performance more than justified any luck that came their way.
“Our penalty was a little fortuitous but I don't think anyone can say we didn't deserve the win,” he added.
“It would've been an absolute travesty had we not won.”
Albion’s rise into the Champions League places has surprised pundits across the country but Clarke says his players are merely justifying the faith he had in them when he was appointed in the summer.
He insists it is vital the players remain grounded – and he has no doubts they will.
“I knew the squad of players I inherited were a good squad who were comfortable in the Premier League after finishing mid-table for two seasons running on 47 points,” said Clarke.
“We knew we’d added some good players in the summer and we were hopeful we could have a good season. So far, we’ve done okay.
"We’ve had a lot of plaudits and the players deserve it. So far, they’ve been a really good team.
"But, as I’ve said before, you don’t get carried away in the Premier League.
"We’re still this side of Christmas. There’s a lot of games to be played and points to be played for.
“We’re in third place but other teams still have to play this weekend.
“We won’t get carried away.
“We’ve got another difficult game at Swansea on Wednesday. That’s not an easy place to go.
“We’re just going to focus on that, try to go down there and give another good performance and see what we can get.”