SUNDERLAND are in a relegation battle this evening after twice throwing away a lead at the Stadium of Light in one of the most disappointing results of the whole campaign.
It looked as though the Black Cats were on their way past the 40-point safety mark when they took an early lead – Asamoah Gyan’s cross from the left in the 11th minute deflected goalwards and defender Nicky Shorey heading past Scott Carson under pressure from Ahmed Elmohamady.
Albion equalised just before the half-hour when Sunderland failed with some basic defending and striker Peter Odemwingie capitalised, stretching to turn the ball past Simon Mignolet.
The Wearsiders almost instantly regained the lead when Phil Bardsley smashed a free-kick home after Gyan had been brought down 20 yards out in the 31st minute and Steve Bruce’s men successfully held on to their lead until half-time.
The second-half might have gone either way but Sunderland gradually unravelled, visibly wilting as Albion took heart from the home team’s nervy play.
The visitors levelled in the 54th minute through another scrappy goal, Albion passing it around static Sunderland players and Odenwingie given far too much time to find Youssouf Mulumbu who scuffed a shot home from 10 yards out.
Sunderland continued to play dreadfully and for the second time in consecutive weeks they were indebted to a fantastic performance from Mignolet between the posts to keep them in it.
But there was nothing he could do about Albion’s 72nd minute winner, the visitors once again given the freedom of the park before Odemwingie found Paul Scharner 12 yards out and he passed the ball home.
Sunderland mounted a late surge but it never looked like being enough and at the final whistle the home team got the boos their second-half performance fully deserved.
To read the rest of the match report, please see tonight’s Football Echo.