Sunderland 2 West Bromwich Albion 1
It was a bad day for the Baggies at the Stadium of Light as they not only suffered successive defeats for the first time this season, but also lost another player to injury as Josh Maja had to be helped off the field in the first half. It leaves Carlos Corberán juggling his squad once again as we head into a busy period of games in December.
It was also a bad day for the officials with a first half goal for Sunderland incorrectly ruled out for offside and the scorer of the hosts’ opener, Dan Ballard, incredibly fortunate to escape a red card for the challenge that caused Maja’s injury. There were plenty of other questionable decisions, not least the one to award the free kick that led to the Black Cats’ opening goal.
However poor the officials may have been, the result was a fair one as Albion failed to get any sort of spark in the attacking third. They defended well for long periods and looked like they might escape with a point until Nathaniel Chalobah was caught napping and allowed Ballard a free header for the opening goal. The second goal bore a stark resemblance to Leicester City’s winner last week as Sunderland broke away albeit the key moment was an unfortunate slip by Conor Townsend.
The loss of Maja left Albion without a focal point up front as Corberán’s strange decision to bring on Tom Fellows as his replacement was one that didn’t work. Neither Fellows, Diangana or Swift were able to make any sort of impact centrally. I guess the Albion boss was trying to protect Thomas-Asante by not giving him too many minutes ahead of the trip to Rotherham on Tuesday, but the Baggies looked toothless, not that things improved too much when BTA did come on for the final half an hour.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the poor performance was the absence of Okay Yokuşlu – without him, Albion had no real control in midfield and struggled to play through from the back as a result. That problem indirectly led to what should have been the opening goal when Alex Palmer took too long on the ball, but the quality of Sunderland’s pressing should not be underestimated. Having said that, at their best, Albion have proved able to play through similar opposition.
The result brings Sunderland back into the top six but the Baggies stay in fifth ahead of two matches against sides in the lower reaches of the table. The injury to Maja is perhaps more significant than the result itself – a few weeks ago, it looked as if Albion’s injury issues were easing, but with players forced off in the first half of three successive matches, it seems as if the curse has still not lifted.
Albion cannot play well every match and, to be fair, this is the first really poor performance since the defeat at St Andrew’s in early October. Hopefully, the can recover for the trip to Rotherham on Tuesday and get back on the victory trail.