Sunderland 1 West Bromwich Albion 2
Carlos Corberán inspired Albion to a fourth successive victory at the Stadium of Light as his substitutions proved pivotal as his team overturned a half time deficit to claim all three points in what was a veritable “game of two halves”. It was the first time that the Baggies had won a match after conceding the first goal since two late strikes from Karlan Grant earned them all three points in the home match with QPR in September 2021.
Albion’s Spanish head coach may not be able to claim credit for the signings of Tom Rogić and Daryl Dike, and neither Valérien Ismaël not Steve Bruce had either player fully fit for anything more than half a match, but his decision to introduce them from the bench on Wearside paid immediate dividends.
The Baggies’ equaliser involved both players as the American held off the Sunderland defender in the box and laid the ball back for Rogić – the Australian’s finish with the outside of his left foot was sublime, a curling effort that forced Dike to lean over as it passed him (pictured) before finding the bottom corner of the net with the hosts’ goalkeeper, Anthony Patterson, helpless in the centre of his goal.
The winner was something the type of goal that Baggies fans have been waiting for since Daryl Dike signed in January. A wonderful cross from man-of-the-match, Jed Wallace, finished superbly with an imperious header from the American. Wallace has put in more crosses than any other player in the Championship this season and, with Dike now fit, that is hopefully the first of many combinations between the two.
The goals were obviously pivotal but tell only half of the story. For the first half an hour, Albion looked well off the pace as the hosts pressed high and forced Corberán’s team into mistakes. It was, perhaps, not surprising given that the Baggies had not played a competitive game for a month while Tony Mowbray’s team had been fortunate enough to arrange a league match last weekend, one that they won 3-0. Diallo opened the scoring from the spot after Conor Townsend’s clumsy challenge had felled the same player in the box, and it would have been 2-0 had Alex Palmer not pulled off a miraculous save to deny former Albion loanee, Alex Pritchard, from close range.
That proved to be Sunderland’s last serious attempt on goal and Albion did seem to be growing into the game a little as the first half drew to a close. After the break, the visitors dominated but it wasn’t until the introduction of Rogić and Dike either side of the hour mark that their superiority started to tell. The equaliser came in the 70th minute and after that, a winner was perhaps not inevitable, but Albion always looked the more likely to score. And score they did.
Just before the winning goal, Sunderland did have a shout for a penalty after Diallo went down in front of Adam Reach – at first glance, I thought Albion had got away with one, but the replays showed that there was no contact. The hosts also complained that the ball was out before Wallace delivered the cross – they’d obviously learned nothing from the incident in the Japan v Germany game at the World Cup, the ball was in!
Although there was only one change to the team that started against Stoke City before the month-long break, it was an unexpected one. Kyle Bartley was omitted with a minor injuriy picked up in training and with Semi Ajayi also unavailable with a minor knock, Albion were a bit short at the back. Erik Pieters started alongside Dara O’Shea and Martin Kelly came off the bench late on for his first appearance under Corberán. Furthermore, O’Shea had to leave the pitch for a period in the first half to receive attention to a cut meaning Okay Yokuşlu had to drop into the back four temporarily.
It had not been a smooth build up to the match for Albion after the tragic death of club doctor, Julian Widdowson, and both Wallace and Dike paid tribute to him in their post-match interviews, as well as remembering he victims of the tragic incident at Babbs Mill Park in Solihull at the weekend. Widdowson was obviously a popular member of the backroom team and his untimely death had been keenly felt by all at the club.
The victory moved Albion up to 17th place in the table, just eight points off sixth-place Preston North End and with a game in hand over every club above them other than Coventry City, who they face in that game in hand next week. First up is Rotherham United at the Hawthorns on Saturday, a team that the Baggies leapfrogged by virtue of the win at Sunderland.
This result more than any other in Corberán’s brief tenure will have raised expectations amongst the fan base and anything other than a win on Saturday will now be disappointing. Such is the nature of football.