Hard times for Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill as Steve Clarke prospers at West Brom

Sunderland 2 West Bromwich Albion 4

Two managers; one in tracksuit bottoms, a training top and Copa Mundials, the other in a club tie, shirt and a suit. One kicking every ball, even throwing it back to his players during the second half. The other, hands in pockets, carefully passing a bit of advice to his players. One losing. One winning.

One resigning, according to a radio station's tweet late on Saturday night. The other going home third top of the Premier League, five months into his new career as a football manager.

At 4pm on Saturday, the focus was, deservedly, Steve Clarke's. West Bromwich Albion had just completed their best start to a top-flight season in 58 years with a 4-2 victory over Sunderland.

By 9pm, Martin O'Neill had taken it back. The denial came quickly, from him and those around him. The club ridiculed the speculation. It is not what Sunderland need as they plot an unsteady ship through troubled waters.

They have won five of their last 27 Premier League games. O'Neill is attempting a difficult balancing act. His team had 17 shots on Saturday to West Bromwich's 12 and they only lost the possession battle to a team full of confidence by 2 per cent. Yet after the game there was the admission that O'Neill felt his team were a bit weaker than Clarke's.

"Will I do much in January?" he said. "I have mentioned the physical sides of things before in that we have less physicality than most Premier League teams. We would need a little bit more strength, a little bit more strength in depth."

In contrast, it is onwards and upwards for Clarke. "I am never satisfied," he said. "If we get to 50 points in March, I will go for another target. The philosophy we have and the way we have worked is to build game to game and we look no further. I am mildly happy. It has not been a lucky start, in fact in some games you could say we have been unlucky not to get points.

"Everything we have got we have deserved but we don't get carried away and think because we are up there we are the big-time Charlies. We keep grounded. And, as I said to the players, it could be a good season for us."

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<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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