Sunderland Reserves 1
West Brom Reserves 2
Ian Laws reports
SUNDERLAND Reserves crashed to their second defeat of the New Year on a costly night which saw Paul Thirlwell suffer a broken nose and keeper Michael Ingham sent off for violent conduct.
The Black Cats were ahead through a goal that both Craig James and Michael Proctor went away claiming before the match was turned by Ingham's dismissal barely 30 seconds into the second half, when he reacted angrily to a reckless sliding tackle from Simon Brown.
The Northern Irishman jumped to his feet to confront the Baggies striker after the pair had gone to ground to contest a ball into the box from the restart.
Referee Mark Haywood had no choice other than to show Ingham the red card after the keeper directed a head-butt at his opponent, not making heavy contact, but it was contact nonetheless.
Haywood took no action against Brown, who had arrived at the challenge late to rouse Ingham's fury, setting the tone for a niggly second half which saw the official lose control of procedings somewhat.
In football terms, the game was nothing to write home about and the sending-off at least injected a bit of passion into a fairly drab encounter.
Mick McCarthy, watching from the stands, had demanded more of the second string after seeing them lose 3-1 away to Middlesbrough last week, and there was little question about the workrate or commitment last night.
But neither side could command control of the match for significant periods.
There was little threat from either team in the opening stages, but Sunderland went in front after 13 minutes.
Michael Proctor won a corner on the right after his shot from the edge of the area was blocked out, and Kevin Cooper went over to take the kick.
His accurate delivery was met at the near post by stand-in striker Simon Ramsden's powerful header, and, when the effort bounced down off the bar, James followed up to smash the ball goalwards.
Opinion was split over whether Proctor or a defender on the line got the final touch on the powerful shot, but both James and Proctor went away celebrating. The thing which mattered most was that the home side had the lead.
Thirlwell, who hasn't played for the first team since suffering a calf strain against Bradford on Boxing Day, had looked strong alongside Sean Thornton in central midfield before being forced out of the action after 18 minutes.
He went up to contest a header with Adam Chambers, but was caught by the West Brom midfielder's leading arm and immediately went down clutching his face.
There was nothing malicious in the challenge and efforts were made on the pitch and on the touchline to stem the flow of blood from Thirlwell's nose before he was eventually replaced by Jonjo Dickman.
West Brom were struggling to make any impression, but Sunderland had a scare in the 31st minute when Ingham fumbled at the feet of Jack Cudworth and the visitors' forward tried to capitalise, but the flag was already up against him for offside.
Proctor tested Joe Murphy with a drive from 25 yards, but the Baggies' keeper saved easily, and Sunderland ended the half on the attack, Ramsden failing to direct his header on target from James's cross from the left.
Ingham's dismissal brought a fiery start to the second half and forced Sunderland reserve coach Jocky Scott into a re-shuffle, Chris Scott being sacrificed from the right flank to be replaced by goalkeeper Ben Alnwickm with Cooper, Thornton and Dickman being asked to marshal an under-manned midfield.
The one-man advantage allowed West Brom more space in which to play their football and the home side were caught napping to concede a 53rd-minute equaliser.
James O'Connor split the Black Cats' defence with a sliderule pass from midfield which Cudworth received unmarked before hammering a shot past the exposed and helpless Alnwick from 12 yards.
Cudworth - given a makeshift forward role (he usually plies his trade as a centre-half for the Under-19s) - forced Alnwick to save high to his left a minute later, but Sunderland were determined not to buckle and Ramsden dropped deeper to shore-up midfield.
Darren Williams got forward well in the 66th minute to earn a free kick on the right-hand corner of the box.
James stepped up to take it and whipped a curling left-foot effort that cleared the bar by a hair's width before ruffling the top of the net.
With the play becoming increasingly stretched, Cudworth claimed what turned out to be the winner in the 77th minute.
Chambers broke down the left and his low cross missed out Brown at the near post before carrying to his strike partner, who fired home another free shot with Alnwick once again given no time to react.
Sunderland didn't give up the ghost and Proctor shot straight at Murphy following a good break forward by Thornton.
But the Sunderland striker will have been disappointed not to have equalised seven minutes from time when the Baggies committed too many men forward, leaving on-loan Cooper - starved of possession for much of the game, particularly when his side was down to 10 men - to lead another counter-attack.
He swept a ball from right-to-left for James to gallop onto and the defender squared towards Proctor at the near post, but he could only divert his shot over the bar as he slid in with keeper Murphy.
There was still time for more drama when Stockton-born former Hartlepool defender Phil Gilchrist appeared to use his arm to block substitute Chris Black's effort on the line, but the hosts' penalty appeals were waved aside by ref Haywood and West Brom headed home with maximum points.
SUNDERLAND RESERVES: Ingham, Williams, Clark, Collins, James, Scott (Alnwick 46), Thornton, Thirlwell (Dickman 22), Cooper, Proctor, Ramsden (Black). Subs not used: Leadbitter, Kingsberry. Booked: Thornton 45; Dickman 48. Sent off: Ingham 46
WEST BROM RESERVES: Murphy, Mkandawire, N'dour, Berthe, Gilchrist, Chambers, Volmer, O'Connor, Dyer, Brown, Cudworth. Subs not used: Jones, Clarke, Warmer, Midworth
Referee: Mark Haywood (Wakefield)