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

Sunderland 2 West Bromwich Albion 4

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The Independent Football

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."