STEVE Clarke hailed his players for beating Sunderland to reach the magic 40-point mark – but warned them they must improve on seeing out winning positions.
The Baggies’ 2-1 win over the Black Cats lifted them up to seventh in the Barclays Premier League table, with 11 games remaining.
The Hawthorns victory could have been more convincing after Romelu Lukaku’s 35th-minute penalty and his 75th-minute effort put the hosts’ two goals up.
But Stephane Sessegnon’s 80th-minute strike made it a nervy finish to the game for Steve Clarke’s men, with Ben Foster again called upon to make crucial saves and James McClean missing a golden opportunity to equalise.
“I’m pleased to win and I’m reasonably satisfied with the performance,” said Clarke.
“I thought at times we knocked it around really well and played some good football.
“I’m a little bit disappointed that we seemed to be hanging on a little bit at the end.
“The one thing I said to the players after the game is if we want to improve as a team and get better we have to learn to manage games like that so from 2-0 up it shouldn’t become such an open game.
“That would be the only criticism.”
He added: “It’s a relief to get to the 40-point mark after the run we had in January and early February.
“I’m pleased to be at 40 points and I’m also a little bit disappointed we didn’t reach 40 points earlier because in the first half of the season we gave ourselves a great platform.
“There was a time I thought we’d reach 40 points before the end of January.
“It’s taken us another month but I think we can still be pleased with our efforts.
“As I said at the start of the season, 50 points was always a realistic target and we’ll make that our next target.”
The Baggies’ were awarded a spot-kick when Liam Ridgewell’s cross was handled by Craig Gardner, while referee Roger East turned down Black Cats’ appeals for a penalty when Adam Johnson’s cross seemingly hit Gareth McAuley’s arm towards the end of the first half.
But Clarke felt the Wiltshire official got both decisions correct.
“It’s always a difficult one with handball in terms of it being ball to hand or hand to ball,” he said.
“What I would say in the referee’s defence - and probably being a bit biased as well if I’m honest - is when the cross came into the Sunderland box there was clear daylight between the body and the arm, whereas with the McAuley one his arms were as close to his body as he could get them.
“Without chopping his arms off I’m not really sure what else he’s supposed to do.
“That’s my take on it – slightly biased.”