More injury woes for Albion as they face managerless Sunderland

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion; Stadium of Light, Saturday 9th December 2023, 12.30pm

Ahead of the match against Hull City at the beginning of November, the Baggies faced a run of six matches against teams in the top eight of which this trip to Sunderland is the last. Carlos Corberán’s team have won three of the previous five to maintain their position in the play-off positions, but the Black Cats have picked up just five points in the same period and have not only dropped out of the top eight but have also seen fit to dispense with the services of their manager, former Baggies boss Tony Mowbray.

A home defeat to struggling Huddersfield Town cannot have helped Mowbray’s cause, but let’s not forget that Corberán suffered the exact same result back in September, and that defeat for Sundeland came in the midst of a run of just two wins in their last nine games. Nonetheless, it seems like a very harsh decision given that Mowbray led the Wearsiders to the play-offs last season in their first campaign back in the second tier after four seasons in League One, and it was one that came as a surprise to most that follow the Championship and the club itself.

The sacking of a manager can sometimes prove to be a boost to a group of players, but that is normally when the outgoing boss has been unpopular with the squad – I don’t think that can be said about Mowbray. With Mowbray’s assistant, Mark Venus, also departing, first team coach, Mike Dodds, has been placed in temporary charge at the Stadium of Light as they search for a new boss – it will be Dodds’ second spell in caretaker charge at Sunderland having taken over for two matches after Lee Johnson was sacked in February 2022, both of which ended in defeat.

For Carlos Corberán, however, the potential boost to a side following a manager’s departure is less of a concern than another serious injury to a key player. Matt Phillips pulled up in the match against Leicester City last weekend and the news could hardly be worse. A serious hamstring tear is likely to keep Albion’s longest serving player out for four months, meaning that he might be back for the final few weeks of what is currently the final season of his contract. Having started every Championship match this campaign until the trip to Cardiff last week, Phillips has been a key player in the way Corberán wants to play offering, as he does, a winger’s instinct coupled with the discipline to play as a wing back if needed. It is undoubtedly a massive blow.

Meanwhile, Jed Wallace is unlikely to make Saturday’s match but could be available for the trip to Rotherham United on Tuesday while Kyle Bartley should be available having recovered from a minor hamstring issue. Another absentee will be Okay Yokuşlu having picked up his fifth yellow card last weekend and triggering a one match suspension.

With those three key absences, Corberán has some decisions to make as to who will start against Sunderland. The absence of both Phillips and Wallace may make a start for Tom Fellows more likely, or perhaps even Josh Maja if he decides to go for a 4-4-2. Maja might even start in place of Brandon Thomas-Asante with the boss having suggested this week that the striker who started his career at Sunderland is as close to a starting spot as he has ever been. I’d expect both Swift and Diangana to start if fit, but the remainder of the attacking line up is less easy to predict with Sarmiento, Fellow, BTA and Maja all vying for a spot in the first eleven.

Behind them, CC is likely to have to choose between Chalobah and Molumby to play alongside Alex Mowatt in midfield, and my guess would be Chalobah assuming he is fully fit. As the back, Bartley is likely to return (again, if fit) with the remainder of the defence unchanged.

This match marks the first of a run of seven games in 24 games and I’d expect to see the first eleven rotated significantly for the remainder of the month. With the next match coming up on Tuesday, it probably means that it is even trickier than usual to pick the starting eleven and, as Corberán has stated more than once, with five substitutes, the players on the bench are every bit as important as those who start the match.

The dismissal of Tony Mowbray this week may have added a different edge to this match, but it is one that Albion should not fear. They are on a run of five wins from the last seven and deserved at least a draw from the two games they have lost, both of which are against relegated sides who are among the favourites for promotion. Injuries and suspension leave the Baggies a little short, but they have coped in the last couple of months and there is nothing to suggest that will not continue.

A point would be a decent result, but I think Albion should win this if their good form continues.


Sunderland’s victory at the Hawthorns in April, what was only Carlos Corberán’s second home defeat as Albion manager, was the Black Cats’ first victory over the Baggies in eight meetings. Their previous win in this fixture was 2-0 at the Stadium of Light in a Premier League fixture in May 2014 when Jack Colback and Fabio Borini were the scorers for Gus Poyet’s team.

Those are the Wearsiders’ only successes in this fixture in the last 17 in a run that dates back to 2009. The Baggies’ ten wins in that run has brought the head-to-head record back to some level of respectability although Sunderland still have the edge with 58 wins to Albion’s 56, with the Baggies’ numbers boosted by a 100% record in the FA Cup.

Sunderland were a real force in the 1890s winning the title in only their second season in the Football League. They added two more before the new century dawned and another three before the outbreak of the Second World War. Relegation in 1958 marked something of a decline in fortunes on Wearside and an FA Cup win in 1973 is their only major trophy since.

In their nineteenth century heyday, however, Albion were rarely a match. A draw on their first visit to Sunderland’s Newcastle Road ground in November 1890 was the only thing that the Baggies had to show for their first ten meetings with the Wearsiders, who scored nine goals on their first two visits to Stoney Lane and registered an 8-1 home win in October 1892. That remains Sunderland’s record win over Albion but they had a go at beating it a few years later but fell short with a 7-1 win in January 1896.

Both of those were at Newcastle Road and, after Albion finally won there with a 2-0 victory in October 1897, Sunderland promptly moved to Roker Park and it would be another 14 years before the Baggies would get the better of Sunderland at their new home. That was in the third round of the FA Cup in February 1912 when Bob Pailor scored both of Albion’s goals in a 2-1 win, while their first league win at Roker was a couple of years later, another 2-1 win in November 1914.

Roker Park was never a happy hunting ground for Albion, and it is only since Sunderland moved to the Stadium of Light have they started to record regular away wins on Wearside. In fact, the Baggies have won on 6 of their 16 visits to the Black Cats’ current home, compared to 6 wins in 53 visits to Roker Park!

Albion’s best win in Sunderland was at Roker, however, on New Year’s Day 1966. The hosts took the lead through Gary Moore, but goals from John Kaye, Bobby Hope, Tony Brown (2) and Ray Crawford saw the visitors run out 5-1 winners. At the Stadium of Light, the Baggies’ best result was in November 2012. Zoltán Gera and Shane Long gave Steve Clarke’s Baggies a 2-0 lead at half time before future Baggie, Craig Gardner reduced the arrears inside the last 20 minutes. Romelu Lukaku restored the visitors’ two goal lead from the spot before another future Albion player, Stéphane Sessègnon, made it 2-3 with three minutes left. There was still time for Gardner to score his second, but through his own net to make the final score 4-2 to Albion.

Stat Attack

Current Form

Albion W W L W W L
Sunderland W D W L L D

All competitions; most recent game on the right

Last matches

Last meeting

22 Apr 2023 – League Championship
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Swift (pen))
Sunderland 2 (Cirkin (2))

Last meeting at Sunderland

12 Dec 2022 – League Championship
Sunderland 1 (Diallo (pen))
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Rogić, Dike)

Albion’s Record against Sunderland

  Overall   Away
  P W D L F A   P W D L F A
League 154 52 44 58 222 261   77 13 25 39 79 158
FA Cup 4 4 0 0 10 4   2 2 0 0 4 2
Total 158 56 44 58 232 265   79 15 25 39 83 160

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