Verdict: Another missed opportunity as Sunderland fail to break down West Brom

Steven Fletcher (right)
Steven Fletcher (right)
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REFEREEING decisions are supposed to even themselves out over the course of the season.

But Sunderland have had legitimate cause to feel a little hard done by; key penalty decisions failing to go their way against Southampton, Hull and Bradford and hugely damaging defeats ensuing as a consequence.

There were a couple more calls added to the dossier against West Brom, albeit neither were quite as clear-cut as the flabbergasting failure to award a penalty at Valley Parade.

If Mike Jones penalised Joleon Lescott for what was a very minimal tug on Danny Graham inside the opening five minutes (albeit it was the linesman who gave the foul, rather than the referee) then was the resulting punishment inevitably a red card?

Probably. Jones clearly felt that Graham didn’t have control the ball, but then he wasn’t going to do if he was being fouled, was he?

On balance, the red card was the most feasible outcome.

It was the same situation with Adam Johnson’s disallowed goal on the stroke of half-time.

Johnson was just – and only just – level, when he collected Ricky Alvarez’s inswinging cross, yet the benefit of the doubt is supposed to be given to the attackers.

In such a tight game, those decisions which went against Sunderland were crucial.

Those fine margins were the difference between what would have been a huge three points, to what became a frustrating solitary single point haul and an eighth goalless draw of the campaign.

The encounter was always going to have such a complexion – West Brom stockpiling men behind the ball, doubling up on Sunderland’s widemen and showing limited ambition on the counter-attack.

It was exactly what Tony Pulis did at the Stadium of Light last season when Crystal Palace came away with the same scoreline.

There was certainly an improvement from the previous two games from Sunderland, who had the lion’s share of possession and pinned West Brom back in their half for long periods.

There was no lack of effort either, yet Sunderland lacked the quality to find the breakthrough.

Ricky Alvarez was far too predictable in consistently jinking inside, rather than taking on makeshift full-back Chris Brunt.

But Sunderland as a whole struggled to get in behind the Baggies defence and the well-drilled visiting back-line soaked everything up.

Perhaps Sunderland needed to take small steps after the QPR and Bradford debacles, and the return of Lee Cattermole clearly made a huge difference.

Yet like too many of Sunderland’s 13 draws this season, this felt like a missed opportunity.