Cast your mind back to late November when West Brom comfortably beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. It was their fourth consecutive Premier League win and saw them rise to the unthinkable heights of third in the table. And they more than merited the position having played some exuberant football during Steve Clarke’s short tenure. But an uncomfortable run over Christmas and New Year has led some to believe the Baggies held their end of season get together when the clocks chimed midnight on January 31st. In the 13 games since their Wearside success the Baggies have recorded just three victories, slipping down to ninth and jeopardising their European aspirations. Clarke will hope the win at Liverpool 12 days ago, thanks to goals from Romelu Lukaku and Gareth McAuley, can revitalise his wearied squad and recommence their push for European football by doing the double over the Black Cats.
With only Manchester City and Manchester United holding a better home record than their Midland’s opponents Martin O’Neill won’t have turned a blind eye to the task facing his players. Five wins in their last 11 matches has calmed fears of being sucked into a relegation dogfight, although their safety has yet to be fully assured as they sit just six points above the drop zone. A trademark of any O’Neill side is their defensive solidity and Sunderland have been strong at the back but its scoring goals rather then keeping them out thats been the problem. They’ve managed just 28 in 26 games this term, with Steven Fletcher notching 10, and the Northern Irishman will be hoping Danny Graham can hit the ground running on what could be his first start for the club this week.
Goran Popov serves the second of a three match ban but Steve Clarke will have to make a decision over whether to recall troublesome striker Peter Odemwingie.
A hamstring injury looks certain to keep Danny Rose out, Lee Cattermole is struggling with a knee problem but Danny Graham could make his first start for the club.
What the managers said…
“I don’t really look at doing a double over a team. The trick in the Premier League is just to pick up points as and when you can. Our performance at Sunderland was really good so we’ve got good memories of playing against them, but in recent weeks they have tightened up a lot. They have started picking up good results and they are stronger defensively than maybe they were earlier in the season. They’re not letting so many goals in. We expect a really difficult challenge, which you always get when you play against a Martin O’Neill team, because they’re fired up to give him 100 per cent every game.” Steve Clarke doesn’t expect Sunderland to be the pushovers they were in November’s reverse fixture (Birmingham Mail)
“I’m hoping the players are much more refreshed and with 12 games to go I feel it was very beneficial. I’ve been on these sort of trips before with mixed degrees of success. One of them we came back and couldn’t stop winning, another time it was a bit more stop start. But I’ve been a big fan of the idea of a winter break for some time and I feel right now that it has been a benefit to us. We’ve got slightly less than a third of the season to go and there’s a lot of points to play for. Martin O’Neill hopes the warm weather training trip to Dubai has left his Sunderland squad feeling refreshed (Sunderland Echo)
Pre-Match Statistic: West Brom supporters should expect to be celebrating a victory this weekend as the Baggies have won five and drawn once in their last six meetings with Sunderland.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1-0 Sunderland