ROMELU Lukaku’s double condemned Sunderland to a third successive Premier League defeat as the gap with the bottom three was reduced to five points.
Stephane Sessegnon’s first goal since December gave Sunderland hope of a point at the Hawthorns, but the Black Cats couldn’t force a late equaliser.
Lukaku had given West Brom a first-half lead from the penalty spot after Craig Gardner was penalised for handball.
The on-loan Chelsea striker doubled the advantage when he pounced on Titus Bramble’s error, before Sessegnon immediately gave Sunderland hope with a neat finish into the far corner.
Sunderland pushed hard for a leveller and should have got one in stoppage time, but substitute James McClean blazed over from six yards out.
Danny Graham made his full debut for the Black Cats after the £5million frontman was paired up front alongside Steven Fletcher.
Seb Larsson was also included in the starting line-up, with injured duo Lee Cattermole and Danny Rose dropping out.
Jack Colback took Rose’s spot at left-back, with Larsson partnering Alfred N’Diaye in central midfield, and Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson providing the ammunition from out wide.
Romelu Lukaku returned to the Baggies side alongside Shane Long, with the on-loan Chelsea man replacing Graeme Dorrans.
There was also a spot on the bench for Peter Odemwingie, his first appearance in the squad since his deadline day move to QPR fell through.
Sunderland made a bright start and went close in the seventh minute when Johnson’s corner from the right was met at the near post by John O’Shea’s glancing header.
O’Shea thought Ben Foster had spilled the ball over the line, but his appeals were in vain.
Moments later, Baggies defender Gareth McAuley almost netted a spectacular own goal when his volleyed clearance behind from N’Diaye’s cross was inches over the bar.
Sunderland’s front two almost combined to break the deadlock in the 23rd minute when Graham laid the ball off to Fletcher on the edge of the area.
Fletcher angled a left-foot shot towards the far corner, only for it to bounce back agonisingly off the post.
Johnson then charged down Steven Reid’s attempted clearance into the path of Graham, whose shot was saved by Foster.
The ball rolled back into the path of Fletcher who drove a left-footed shot over the top.
West Brom responded - James Morrison’s right-wing cross deflecting off O’Shea agonisingly across the face of goal.
The Baggies then should have taken the lead in the 27th minute when Liam Ridgewell’s left-wing cross was headed wide by Youssouf Mulumbu from six yards out.
The opener did arrive seven minutes later when Ridgewell’s cross was blocked by the outstretched arm of Craig Gardner and referee Roger East immediately pointed to the penalty spot.
Lukaku stepped up and planted it down the middle, with Simon Mignolet diving helplessly to his left.
A minute before the break, Long headed Morrison’s right wing cross over the bar from 10 yards out.
Sunderland should have had a penalty of their own in first half stoppage for an offence identical to Gardner’s.
Johnson went past Reid down the left and his cross was diverted behind at the near post by the arm of McAuley, albeit the West Brom defender had his arms by his side.
HALF-TIME West Brom 1 Sunderland 0
Mulumbu’s goal-line clearance denied Sunderland a leveller six minutes into the second half after Seb Larsson’s corner from the left rolled across the face of goal.
Sessegnon managed to stab an instinctive shot at the far post, which dribbled beyond Foster, but not Mulumbu standing on the line.
Graham agonisingly couldn’t get a touch on N’Diaye’s inswinging cross from the left in the 55th minute after the ball dropped for the striker six yards out.
Lukaku stung Mignolet’s palms in the 63rd minute after Larsson was robbed by Morrison just inside the Sunderland half.
Morrison fed Lukaku down the left-hand channel of the area, but the striker’s powerful left-footed shot was beaten by Mignolet.
Moments later, Lukaku drove a shot wide of the far post from a similar position after surging past O’Shea and Gardner into the area.
Lukaku remained Sunderland’s chief tormentor, a 69th minute shot from Chris Brunt’s corner deflecting off Bramble before being palmed behind by Mignolet.
The Belgian eventually got his second in the 75th minute after a dreadful back pass from Bramble.
The centre-half had intercepted Lukaku’s charging run forward on the left-hand touchline, but Bramble opted to pass it back to Mignolet, rather than hoofing it into the stands.
The pass lacked pace and Mignolet’s attempted clearance was charged down by Lukaku, with the ball bouncing off the striker and into the empty net.
Sunderland almost grabbed an instant way back into the game when Sessegnon produced a mazy run down the right and his low shot went through the legs of Graham, only for Foster to produce a superb save to his right.
Sessegnon wasn’t to be denied though and he did halve the deficit in the 79th minute after substitute James McClean’s left-wing cross deflected off Jonas Olsson into the path of the Benin international, just inside the area.
The 28-year-old kept his cool and lifted a deft right-footed shot into the far corner.
West Brom almost restored their two-goal advantage in the 85th minute when Bramble’s slack header was straight to Brunt, on the edge of the area, whose left-footed volley was pushed away smartly low to his right by Mignolet.
Boos greeted Odemwingie’s introduction, but the substitute went close in the 88th minute, driving a left-footed shot just beyond the far post.
Moments later, Sunderland substitute David Vaughan let fly with a low shot from the edge of the area which Foster spilled, but gathered at the second attempt before Graham could pounce.
Sunderland’s golden chance for an equaliser arrived in the third minute of stoppage time when Colback’s left wing cross was headed back into the danger zone by Bramble at the far post.
The ball landed in the path of McClean, six yards out, but he could only slice his effort over the bar.
FULL-TIME West Brom 2 Sunderland 1
WEST BROM: Foster, Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell, Morrison (Fortune 84), Yacob, Mulumbu, Brunt, Lukaku (Odemwingie 87), Long (Dorrans 66). Subs not used: Myhill, Jones, Tamas, Rosenberg. Booked: Morrison (78)
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Gardner, Bramble, O’Shea, Colback, Johnson (McClean 76), Larsson (Vaughan 76), N’Diaye, Sessegnon, Fletcher, Graham. Subs not used: Bardsley, Kilgallon, Mangane, Cuellar, Westwood. Booked: Bramble (40)