IT WAS a predictable scenario with a familiar outcome.
Stephane Sessegnon was always destined to put a dagger into Sunderland’s hopes of turning around a start to the season which has prematurely plummeted towards panic stations.
Far from the languid figure which Paolo Di Canio sold and then criticised, here was the Benin international popping up with a crucial goal to leave the Black Cats cast adrift at the basement.
But it was the nature of yet another defeat – plus the manner of it – which has made the cloud hanging over Wearside into an ominous tropical storm.
For 20 minutes, Sunderland were bright.
Sparked by Ki Sung-Yeung in the middle of the park, they passed the ball around neatly and, although they never really hurt the Baggies, they looked firmly in control of proceedings.
But then came Sessegnon’s softly-conceded opener and everything changed.
Sunderland looked shell-shocked, bereft of confidence, leadership and ideas. They looked like a side familiar with the losing habit and unable to produce anything else.
Sessegnon suddenly came alive after the goal and, along with the dangerous Morgan Amalfitano – a former Sunderland transfer target – West Brom piled on the pressure against a nervy and brittle opposition defence.
There was a lull at the start of the second half and had sub Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher possessed a modicum of fortune and composure, the equaliser could feasibly have arrived.
But once Liam Ridgewell pounced on another partially cleared Amalfitano cross – moments after Fletcher had meandered down the tunnel with a worrying-looking shoulder injury – Sunderland were beaten men.
The body language from Di Canio’s side was awful. Even though it’s only September, they looked resign to their fate – perhaps understandable given last season’s relegation troubles.
Even the introduction of Lee Cattermole couldn’t instigate some intensity into Sunderland’s legs, albeit the ex-skipper had a hand in almost creating an equaliser for Fletcher while matters were still poised at 1-0.
What next though?
Barring a dramatic turnaround in performance levels against Liverpool or Manchester United, Sunderland will head into the international break still at the foot of the table without tasting victory.
Di Canio was as subdued as he has ever been on the touchline and he looked even more beaten down as he took baby steps across the pitch after the final whistle.
The head coach signalled to the away fans to keep their chins up and then looked like he was almost seeking a vote of confidence from them – something that sparked a mixed reaction.
Di Canio cannot take sole blame for Sunderland’s fortunes of course. After all, others were responsible during the summer for selecting those players who came to the club.
But Sunderland look like a side in a real mess, even though the season is only five games old.
This was the game where the Black Cats could have condemned a return of just one point from the first four games as teething troubles.
Yet the soft underbelly, and the late collapse, painted the bleakest indication yet of what lies in store for Sunderland.
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