Resurgent Black Cats too strong for Baggies
ALBION became the latest victim of Sunderland’s Barclays Premier League Houdini act as the hosts secured the victory they needed to confirm their top-flight status for another season.
Clearly buoyed by successive wins over Chelsea, Cardiff and Manchester United, Gus Poyet’s men wasted little time grabbing the advantage against a Baggies side all-but mathematically safe from the drop.
Jack Colback opened the scoring in the 13th minute as he caught Pepe Mel’s men sleeping.
And Fabio Borini finished off a well-crafted second just past the half-hour mark to seal the points.
Vito Mannone was only really worked once by Saido Berahino’s strike at the close of the first half, with Albion struggling to break down a stubborn Black Cats defence after the break.
With the Stadium of Light encounter the second of three games in a week at the end of a long season, Mel made four changes to his starting line-up.
Steven Reid (groin) and Gareth McAuley (calf) returned from injury and Claudio Yacob and Victor Anichebe also earned recalls.
Poyet named an unchanged Black Cats XI for the fifth successive game.
Ben Foster was called into action in the eighth minute as he flung himself high to his left to spectacularly tip over Borini’s 25-yard strike.
It failed to serve as a warning for the Baggies who found themselves behind five minutes later.
Marcos Alonso broke down the left and sent in a low cross that Colback was left unmarked to prod home from eight yards.
A lengthy spell then ensued where both sides gifted possession to the other all too easily.
But it was the hosts who capitalised on 31 as Sebastian Larsson’s delightful dink over the Baggies back-four saw Borini pip Foster to the ball to volley home from 12 yards and make it 2-0.
Graham Dorrans was trying his hardest to make things work and he was unfortunate to see his 20-yard goalbound drive blocked by Wes Brown in the 35th minute.
The goals deficit prompted a change of formation from Mel to 4-2-3-1, with Dorrans and Yacob sat in front of the defence, while Stephane Sessegnon, James Morrison and Berahino were the three behind frontman Anichebe.
But Albion struggled to get in behind the hosts’ rearguard and were reduced to shots from outside the area, with former Black Cat Sessegnon seeing his effort blocked by John O’Shea three minutes before the break.
Two minutes later, Berahino attacked down the left and cut inside before curling towards the inside of the far post, which Vito Mannone did well to parry low to his left.
At the other end, Adam Johnson teed up Borini whose strike from the edge of the box was comfortably dealt with by Foster.
The Baggies made a double substitution at the break with Craig Dawson and Youssouf Mulumbu coming on for Reid and Yacob respectively.
The visitors applied some early pressure in the second half and on 52 Dawson fizzed a low ball across the six-yard box that Anichebe came within a whisker of connecting with.
Poyet made a double change just past the hour mark, with Johnson and Connor Wickham making way for Liam Bridcutt and Jozy Altidore.
Sessegnon drove into the box on 63 and got past Alonso and O’Shea before miscuing his shot wide of the right-hand post.
Sunderland should have added a third goal two minutes later but somehow Altidore side-footed Colback’s left-wing centre wide of the far post, with the goal at his mercy from six yards.
The Black Cats threatened again on 69 as Larsson fed Altidore on the edge of the area and he spun before teeing up Santiago Vergini, whose low drive flew inches past the far post.
Mannone struggled to deal with Brunt’s left-wing cross on 90 and was forced to punch clear of his goalline at the second attempt.
Seconds later, the Sunderland goalkeeper dealt comfortably with Morrison’s 20-yard drive.
SUNDERLAND (4-5-1): Mannone; Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Johnson (Bridcutt 61), Larsson, Cattermole (Giaccherini 88), Colback, Borini; Wickham (Altidore 61). Subs not used: Ustari (gk), Bardsley, Ba, Scocco.
ALBION (4-4-1-1): Foster; Reid (Dawson HT), McAuley, Lugano, Brunt (c); Berahino (Vydra 78), Yacob (Mulumbu HT), Morrison, Dorrans; Sessegnon; Anichebe. Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Sinclair, Olsson, O’Neil.
GOALS: SUNDERLAND – Colback (13), Borini (31).
REFEREE: L Mason (Lancashire).
ALBION STARMAN: Graham Dorrans.