Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion; Stadium of Light, Monday 12th December 2022, 8pm
It feels strange to be writing an Albion match preview in the midst of a World Cup, but we’ve come to expect the unusual when it comes to the timings of football seasons in recent years. We can only hope that this is the last season to be disrupted and we can get back to the football calendar we are familiar with.
For now, we have to accept that Albion return to action after a four-week break with a trip to Sunderland which, we hope, will be a couple of days before England’s World Cup semi-final with either Portugal or Morocco. It will be the Baggies’ first meeting with the Black Cats for almost six years with the Wearsiders having suffered back-to-back relegations in 2017 and 2018 followed by four seasons in the third tier.
It will also be an encounter with another former Albion boss inTony Mowbray – he took over at the Stadium of Light at the end of August replacing Alex Neil who left to take charge of Stoke City. It will be the seventh time that Mowbray has managed a team against Albion – the previous six have been as boss of Blackburn Rovers and only once, on New Year’s Day 2017, has he come out on top. It was something of a surprise when Mowbray left Ewood Park at the end of last season after five years in charge, but it left him free to take over at Sunderland, a job I’m sure he will relish.
It has been something of an up-and-down season for the Black Cats recording eight wins and seven defeats from their 21 games so far. They are currently on a run of three wins from their last four games, including a 3-0 win over Millwall last weekend that was the one Championship fixture to be scheduled during the World Cup break. The other game in that run was a surprising 1-0 home defeat to Cardiff City, one of three defeats that the Black Cats have suffered at the Stadium of Light.
As their first season back in second tier, I’m sure they will be happy with their results so far which see them in tenth place just a point outside the top six. There are likely to be goals on Monday with only two teams to have scored more than Sunderland’s 29 this season and only three teams in the top half to have conceded more than their 23.
Centre forward Ross Stewart started the campaign with five goals in seven games before suffering a thigh injury that has kept him out ever since. There are suggestions, however, that he could make his return on Monday evening. His replacement, Ellis Simms, has scored five goals in the meantime while midfielders Jack Clarke and Amad Diallo have for goals apiece in what is an impressive attacking line.
As well as a former Baggie in charge, there is one ex-Albion player in the Sunderland squad although Alex Pritchard only made three substitute appearances in his brief loan spell at the Hawthorns from Tottenham Hotspur in 2016. One of his fellow loanees in B71 that season has gone on to be a star of world football winning four German titles and a Champions League, while Pritchard has done a decent job for Norwich City, Huddersfield Town and, now, Sunderland. Not sure that Tony Pulis saw much difference between the two at the time.
Carlos Corberán took advantage of the break to take his squad for warm weather training in Spain including a behind-closed-doors friendly against La Liga side, Elche. The 1-0 defeat in that match is unlikely to be too representative of the work that the squad have been doing, and it will be interesting to see what changes we see from the side after an intensive period with the new boss.
Both Daryl Dike and Semi Ajayi featured in the friendly in Spain and it could be that one or both start at the Stadium of Light on Monday. Tom Rogić is another that will hopefully be up to full fitness and may play a bigger role in the coming weeks. With the boss having had an extended period to work with the players, we could see a few surprises both in terms of selection, and maybe formation.
The run of three successive victories before the break has certainly raised the hopes amongst the Albion faithful that this season may not yet be a write-off. The Baggies are eight points off the play-offs with a game in hand over all but one of the teams above them and there are still 26 games to play before the campaign comes to a close.
There are doubts as to whether Albion’s trip to Coventry will go ahead given the Sky Blues’ stadium issues, but if it does, Monday’s game will be the first of five in a hectic period before the end of the year – ten or twelve points from those would certainly keep the Baggies in the play-off hunt, but that would need to be maintained for the rest of the season. An average of two points per game is normally considered promotion form, and if Albion were to match that for the remainder of the campaign, they would get 75 points which should see them in a top six spot.
I’m getting a little premature, however. Monday’s match will be a stern test and, with all the other teams playing over the weekend, the Baggies may need a result to get out of the bottom three let alone move up towards the play-offs. While Albion would normally be looking to get all three points against a newly promoted side in the second tier, on this occasion, a point would be a good result.
The result aside, many will be looking for further signs of Corberán’s impact after the four-week break. Optimism is high and all Albion fans will be hoping that the team can pick up where they left off last month.
Sunderland has traditionally a tricky opponent for Albion but since the turn of the century, the Baggies have had the better of the fixture. In fact, Albion have lost just one of the last fifteen meetings, a 2-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light in May 2014 when Pepe Mel’s team were beaten by goals from Jack Colback and Fabio Borini.
The Baggies have certainly found things easier since the Black Cats moved from Roker Park in 1997. After losing on their first two visits to the Stadium of Light, Albion have won five and drawn five of their thirteen matches on Wearside with the 4-2 win in November 2012 standing out. Zoltán Gera and Shane Long gave the visitors a 2-0 lead at half time before future Baggie, Craig Gardner pulled one back with seventeen minutes left. Lukaku restored Albion’s two goal lead before another future Albion player, Stéphane Sessègnon, once again reduced the arrears only for a Gardner own goal in stoppage time to make the result 4-2.
That was the Baggies’ last win at Sunderland, although there have only been three meetings since then as the Black Cats dropped to the third tier in successive seasons. Monday’s match will be the first league meeting outside the top fight since the 2006/07 season when Sunderland recorded a league double over Albion.
Sunderland’s record win over Albion came way back in 1892 at their Newcastle Road ground. The Wearsiders were a real force in English football in the late 19th and early 20th century winning five of their six league titles before the First World War. They had just won the first of those when the Baggies visited in October 1892 and were thumped 8-1 by the reigning champions who would go on to successfully defend their title. The legendary Billy Bassett scored Albion’s consolation with the hosts’ goals scored by Jimmy Millar (3), Johnny Campbell (2), Hughie Wilson, Jock Scott and Will Gibson. It meant that Sunderland had scored 22 goals in their first five meetings with the Baggies!
Albion’s record win at Sunderland was at Roker Park on New Year’s Day 1966 when goals from John Kaye, Bobby Hope, Tony Brown (2) and Ray Crawford saw the visitors win 5-1 – Gary Moore had opened the scoring for the hosts.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
21 Jan 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Fletcher, Brunt)
Last meeting at Sunderland
1 Oct 2016 – Premier League
Sunderland 1 (van Aanholt)
West Brom 1 (Chadli)
Last win at Sunderland
25 Nov 2012 – Premier League
Sunderland 2 (Gardner, Sessègnon)
West Brom 4 (Gera, Long, Lukaku (pen), Gardner (o.g.))
Albion’s Record against Sunderland