West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland; The Hawthorns, Sunday 23rd April 2023, 12 noon
Performances over the Easter weekend suggested that this current Albion squad didn’t have the mental strength for a play-off push, and the first half at the Bet365 Stadium reinforced that supposition. Something happened at half time in Stoke-on-Trent and after turning around that match with a show of fight and determination, Carlos Corberán’s team followed it up with a business-like, if occasionally fortunate, display at Blackpool. With kind results elsewhere, the Baggies are suddenly right in the mix for a play-off spot.
I said in the title of my preview of the Rotherham United match that there would be no second chances if Albion didn’t perform in that match, but with all the clubs battling for the top six dropping points, it seems that I was wrong. The Baggies do now have a second chance to secure a top six spot and, with a game in hand on most of their rivals, they have it entirely within their own control.
Sunday’s opponents, Sunderland, are one of the few of the chasing pack who have largely held things together, although a draw at home to struggling Huddersfield Town last time out will not have been the result they were looking for. They were last beaten in mid-March at home to Sheffield United and since earned credible draws with Luton Town and Burnley before they shared eight goals in a remarkable match with Hull City when the Tigers equalised with a 98th minute penalty. Wins over Cardiff City and Birmingham City followed ahead of last weekend’s draw to leave Tony Mowbray’s side two places and one point behind the Baggies with the same +9 goal difference.
Given that it is Sunderland’s first season back at Championship level, I’m sure most fans would have been content with a season of mid-table consolidation, but given that they have dragged themselves into the play-off picture, I’m sure they will be disappointed to miss out. Having said that, they have been inconsistent all season and this six match unbeaten run is their longest of the season – due a defeat, perhaps?
It will be the eighth time that Mowbray will have faced Albion as a manager since he left for Celtic in 2009 and he has only secured one victory, in the second of those games when boss of Blackburn Rovers on New Year’s Day 2019. In his three matches at the Hawthorns, he has managed two draws and a defeat so far.
At the time of writing, there has been no news on the results of the scan that Nathaniel Chalobah was due to have this week on the ankle injury he picked up at Blackpool, but it seems safe to assume that he will not be fit for Sunday. Okay Yokuşlu remains a doubt as they assess him on a game by game basis which could mean another start for Taylor Gardner-Hickman. The academy graduate performed well off the bench on Tuesday and capped off an impressive performance with the second goal, his second for the first team. Jayson Molumby will undoubtedly continue to play through the pain which seems to be doing little to hamper him; one can only hope he is not doing any long term damage.
Barring any more injuries, I expect the remainder of the team to be unchanged from the one that started at Bloomfield Road – in fairness, Corberán has few options to choose from.
This is the first time in four years that Albion fans will be heading to a stadium with something to play for so late in the season. With two seasons ending more-or-less behind closed doors and last season being over by this point, this Sunday’s game will arguably be the most anticipated since the play-off semi final against Aston Villa in 2019. The atmosphere that night was incredible and, while I’m not expecting such fervour at noon on a Sunday, I’m looking forward to the Baggies’ faithful putting on a good show. Corberán has been impressed by the supporters so far – we need to show him that “he ain’t seen nothing yet”!
Victory on Sunday and Albion will be a step closer to the top six and, given how the teams around them have been struggling, they could yet head into the play-offs as the form team, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Back-to-back wins and we’re world-beaters again!
As the old cliché goes, let’s take it one game at a time. Three points on Sunday and things will be looking much better. COYB!!
Sunderland have always held the edge in the head-to-head record between the clubs following a run of ten wins in the first dozen fixtures between the sides in the 1890s when the Wearsiders were one of the leading sides in the country winning their first three league titles before the turn of the 20th century.
Recent years have seen the Baggies pull that back they are now only one win behind in the overall head-to-head. Albion are currently on a run of just one defeat in the last sixteen meetings, ten of which they have won, a run that started with a 3-0 Premier League victory at the Hawthorns in April 2009 thanks to goals from Jonas Olsson, Chris Brunt and the only one of the brief Premier League career of Argentinian winger Juan Carlos Menseguez.
The Black Cats’ last win at the Hawthorns was in March 2007 when Dwight Yorke and Stern John scored either side of half time to give Roy Keane’s side a 2-0 lead before Darren Carter pulled a goal back for the hosts. Any hopes of a comeback were dashed when Paul Robinson was harshly sent off for a professional foul with three minutes to go. It moved Sunderland level on points with Albion with the sides in third and fourth places a point behind Birmingham City – Roy Keane’s side would go on to win the title dropping just five points in their remaining ten games while Albion would suffer play-off heartbreak with defeat to Derby County in the final at Wembley.
The Baggies’ biggest home win over Sunderland was on Boxing Day 1932 when Ginger Richardson scored a hat trick and further goals from Walter Robins and Joe Carter made the final score 5-1. Albion have scored six at home to the Wearsiders in a remarkable match 18 months later in March 1934. Ginger Richardson opened the scoring for the hosts in the first minute but Bobby Gurney equalised within six minutes before Wally Boyes put the Baggies back in front inside of the quarter hour. Raich Carter drew Sunderland level once again two minutes later before the visitors hit the front for the first time inside half an hour when Gurney scored his second. By half time, however, the hosts had the lead again was Tommy Glidden and Joe Carter both found the net. There was then a lull in the scoring until the last 15 minutes when Harry Shaw made it 4-4 but Albion then took what turned out to be a decisive lead in the last ten minutes thanks to a Teddy Sandford penalty and a second goal for Glidden. There was still time for Gurney to complete his hat trick to make the final score 6-5!
Three years later, there was another remarkable match between the sides which Albion won 6-4 at the Hawthorns in February 1937 – four of the goalscorers from the 1934 goalfest were on the scoresheet again – Richardson and Boyes for Albion, Carter and Gurney for Sunderland – but later that year, the Wearsiders recorded their best ever win at Albion with a 6-1 win in October. Raich Carter scored three that day with Bobby Gurney also on the scoresheet again along with Johnny Spuhler and Percy Saunders. Albion’s consolation was a penalty from Stan Wood.
The Baggies best home win in recent years was in February 2012 when Roy Hodgson’s team thumped Martin O’Neill’s Black Cats 4-0 thanks to goals from Peter Odemwingie (2), James Morrison and Keith Andrews. O’Neill was perhaps a little fortunate to keep his job after that defeat – Albion had beaten Wolves 5-1 in the game before to bring Mick McCarthy’s Molineux reign to an end and they beat Chelsea 1-0 a week later, a result which saw André Villas-Boas sacked from Stamford Bridge.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
12 Dec 2022 – League Championship
Sunderland 1 (Diallo (pen))
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Rogic, Dike)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
21 Jan 2017 – Premier League
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Fletcher, Brunt)
Albion’s Record against Sunderland