Sunderland 2 - West Bromwich Albion 1

Date: Saturday 9th December 2023 Live on Sky Sports
Competition: Sky Bet Championship
(4-1-4-1) Patterson, Huggins, O'Nien, Ballard, Hume, Ekwah, Roberts (Mayenda, 81), Aouchiche (Pritchard, 62), Neil, Clarke, Bellingham
Unused subs: Bishop, Burstow, Rusyn, Ba, Seelt, Triantis, Dack
(4-2-3-1) Palmer 6.0, Furlong 4.7, Bartley 5.3 (Ajayi, 75 5.4), Kipré 5.6, Townsend 5.2, Molumby 4.3 (Chalobah, 60 4.5), Mowatt 5.4, Diangana 4.6 (Thomas-Asante, 60 5.9), Swift 4.1 (Ávila Gordón, 75 5.3), Sarmiento 5.0, Maja 5.5 (Fellows, 36 6.1)
Unused subs: Griffiths, Pieters, Taylor, Higgins
Manager: Carlos Corberán  5.7
Scorers: Ballard (69), Neil (84); Thomas-Asante (86)
Attendance: 40,101   Home Fans 5.8   Away Fans 6.4
Submit your ratings for this game by clicking here: Ratings submitted so far: 10

Kev Buckley:

Would the next false number-nine please warm up?

Corberan decided to leave Diangana on the right and went with Sarmiento as the Phillips replacement, which thus saw a start for Swift: in too, came Molumby, for Yokuslu; Bartley for Ajayi, and Maja, for Thomas-Asante, and so, on paper then, not that too diminished a starting XI.

Managerless Sunderland made a couple of changes from the sacked Mowbray's last XI, but it still had a bit of a "men against boys" feel about the match, although we already know just how well Mowbray had schooled his "boys", before he got the boot for getting them 3pts off the play-offs.

As with the last game, we witnessed a pretty cagey start, with neither side creating much but then, just before 10 mins were up, Diangana spun off his marker and drove forwards, and played in Maja, but his first touch wasn't good enough and allowed for a block to be made.

Five minutes later, with Sunderland pressing, Palmer made a complete mess of things and allowed the Black Cats to build down the right, fire in a shot and tap in the rebound off of the save, however the goal was ruled out, incorrectly, for offside, and so Albion got away with one.

With 35 or so showing, Maja went down under a heavy challenge and limped off, but, even with BTA on the bench, Maja, who Corberan had described in the media in the week, as not really a nine, nor a ten - more a nine-and- a-half - was replaced with the latest in our manager's ever growing line of false number nines: please welcome the latest winger to run out in the role: Tom Fellows!

Given that tactical switch, it was perhaps less of a surprise to see Swift coming deep to take the ball off of our back four, although seeing him then lose possession and so give Sunderland another opportunity was pretty much in keeping with the flow of the game as the half ended.

For a contest that had been very compact and cagey, it became a little bit more stretched out, as first, Diangana nearly broke away, then Sunderland passed the ball into the feet of a player in between our two centre-halves, whose shot hit the post only for Palmer's fingertip save to deny the home side a goal from the follow-up, though, as far the officials were concerned, Palmer didn't make a fine save and we got a goal-kick.

On the hour, Corberan swapped Molumby, by then on a yellow, for Chalobah, and also brought on a real-number nine, BTA, so as to allow Fellows, the latest false number nine, to replace Diangana on the right wing, though I'm not all that convinced that this orthodoxy, playing a striker up front and a right-footed player as a right-winger, is really a plan our manager has much faith in.

Ten minutes later and with Sunderland pressing again, we conceded a free kick over on the left and, as you might expect from a side with a youthful forward line who hadn't got enough of the knack of scoring at this level under Mowbray, a Sunderland centre-back rose, unchallenged, to meet the delivery at the near post and put the home side ahead.

As with the Leicester game, it was hard to see how the Albion were going to get back into a contest that they'd played so little a part in, but as we saw in that game, we only need to fashion one long-throw chance to make something of all our possession.

Whether or not the like-for-like swap of Ajayi for Bartley, and the not so obvious swap of right-back Pipa for playmaker Swift, was made so as to give us a bit of extra height ahead of such an opportunity: well, who knows, and in any case, we didn't manage to fashion any such chance before Sunderland cleared a ball into their box towards the half-way line where, unlike the Leicester game, we actually had some players, who hadn't pushed way too far upfield, covering.

Unfortunately, Townsend, covering over in the right-back area, didn't control the dropping ball all that well, but then slipped over as he tried to recover the now loose ball and Sunderland, as did Leicester, pounced, two players breaking away, ending with one of them, now in a one-on-one with Palmer, calmly finishing to all but end the game.

Having said that, even with Albion having been a toothless tiger for most of the match, they would experience a dead-cat bounce, when BTA's guided header from a cross from the left placed the ball over and into the right-side of the goal but with that, our first on target effort, coming in the 86th minute, it was more of a score-line flattery than a sign of any possible recovery.

As with the Leicester result, even though we've fallen further behind the sides above us, only Sunderland and Cardiff, of the six or so below us who might have made up ground, did so, and with bottom-of-the-table Rotherham to come in the next game who is to say that our possession-based game won't finally result in a hatful of goals: maybe even one for Pipa, playing as the manager's next false number nine?