SUNDERLAND missed out on the chance of going top of the Barclays Premier League Under 21 when a powerful West Brom proved to have too much for them on the night.
Kevin Ball fielded a side with a smattering of summer signings – El-Hadji Ba, David Moberg Karlsson and Chavris Mavrias.
And he also took the opportunity to continue the comebacks from injury of defenders Louis Laing and John Egan in what proved to be a hotly competitive match in freezing conditions.
There were few real opportunities in the early stages – Craig Lynch, deployed as Sunderland’s central striker in a front three, dragged a shot across goal in the fifth minute; his opposite number Alex Jones forced the first real save of the game of Joel Dixon in the sixth after being put through by George Thorne’s defence-splittiing ball.
But Albion took the lead in the 18th minute when Daniel Barrow took advantage of space on the left to cross, Jordan Francis put the ball back across goal and striker Mani O’Sullivan capitalised with a rising shot from eight yards that Dixon could do little about.
Sunderland hit back quickly with Charis Mavrias sending a powerful shot over the crossbar from range a couple of minutes later.
And the Wearsiders levelled on the half-hour after Callum Jones went in clumsily on Duncan Watmore and Liam Agnew drove the resulting penalty high into the left-hand corner of Jack Rose’s goal.
Sunderland started the second-half brightly with El-Hadji Ba hitting the crossbar with a 47th miniute header in a goalmouth scramble.
But it took time for the attackers on either side to begin getting on top and it was not until just before the hour that Albion’s young England international George Thorne forced a fine save out of Dixon with a whipped in shot from the right which was blocked at his near post by Dixon.
Sunderland almost went ahead in the 67th minute when Mavrias surged on to a long ball out of defence and clipped a ball across to Watmore, whose effort spun just wide of the target.
And Albion went straight down the pitch on the counter-attack to force the decisive goal – O’Sullivan oupacing the Sunderland defence down the left-hand channel before shooting across Dixon and into the bottom corner for his second goal of the game.
Sunderland might have levelled immediately but Louis Laing drove into the side netting from right of goal.
In the 78th Sunderland almost produced a well-worked goal with Agnew and Mavrias combining to set up substitute George Honeyman who lifted a shot over the bar.
The watching Gus Poyet left the ground seconds after chance and might have missed out on a late, late equaliser.
But in a good position in a goalmouth scramble, Watmore could not manage to get his powerful shot on target in what proved to be the last kick of the game.
Sunderland: (4-4-3) Dixon, Laing, Egan, McNamee, Ferguson, Ba, Agnew, Moberg Karlsson (sub Honeyman67), Mavrias (sub Holland 82), Lynch, Watmore. Subs not used: Stryjek, Lawson, Beadling.
West Brom: Rose, Gayle, Garmston, Atkinson, Daniels, Jones, Barrow (sub Thomas 89), Thorrne, Jones (O’Neill 42), O’Sullivan, Francis (sub Birch 87). Subs not used: Palmer, Birch, Donnellan.