As Roy Hodgson celebrated Peter Odemwingie's part in all but guaranteeing West Bromwich Albion's Premier League safety, the Nigerian international confessed that he feared he might have been sold in January after his public disagreement with his boss.
Hodgson caused a stir last November when he seemed to question the striker's willingness to play after his comeback from a knee injury was repeatedly delayed. He complained the club had "got nothing out of him" after agreeing a £35,000-a-week contract with the Russian-born player last summer, going on to refer to "players at the club who will play when not fully fit".
Now clearly in full working order after a knee injury, Odemwingie followed his hat-trick in the 5-1 thrashing of Wolves at Molineux with another two as Albion burst Sunderland's bubble emphatically on Saturday, admitting afterwards that he had spoken to Hodgson to clarify his position.
"I had a few thoughts that something was wrong and I wanted to know his plans and if there was any doubt about my commitment to the club," Odemwingie said. "He said he was '100 per cent' that he wanted to work with me and that I shouldn't take his frustration and anger [as being aimed] towards me. He said he always wanted me to play for his team.
"For me [not wanting to play] had nothing to do with it. I am the total opposite of a player who doesn't want to play through pain. We needed to clear the air but it was cleared and I'm very happy here."
Odemwingie scored three minutes into each half, heading home Youssuf Mulumbu's well-flighted ball and converting a cut-back from the tireless Marc-Antoine Fortune. James Morrison scored a well-worked second and Keith Andrews, rescued from disfavour at Blackburn, marked his home debut with his second in as many games.
Sunderland, who struggled to win and keep possession in the first half, began the second with three strikers and two wingers but Odemwingie's second goal killed any chance of a recovery. It was only a fourth defeat in 16 games since Martin O'Neill became manager. "It was a poor performance but it is difficult for me to criticise players who have put heart and soul into the last three months," he said.
The win takes Albion to 32 points, 11 clear of the bottom three and three ahead of West Midlands rivals Aston Villa,whose manager, Alex McLeish, was booed by travelling fans after a goalless draw at Wigan saw them slip to 15th. Striker Darren Bent was carried off with an ankle injury and will miss England's friendly against the Netherlands on Wednesday.
WBA: FOSTER 8/10; REID 8; McAULEY 7; OLSSON 7; RIDGEWELL 7; MORRISON 9; MULUMBU 8; ANDREWS 8; ODEMWINGIE 8; FORTUNE 8; THOMAS 7
Sunderland: MIGNOLET 7; RICHARDSON 5; TURNER 6; O'SHEA 5; BARDSLEY 5; McCLEAN 4; GARDNER 6; CATTERMOLE 5; COLBACK 4; LARSSON 5; SESSEGNON 4
Scorers: West Bromwich Albion Odemwingie 3, 48, Morrison 41, Andrews 90
Subs: WBA Dorrans 7 (Thomas, 64), Shorey (Mulumbu, 77), Long (Odemwingie, 81). Sunderland Bendtner 5 (Richardson, h-t), Campbell 6 (Colback, h-t), Bridge 6 (Larsson, 59).
Booked: WBA Dorrans. Sunderland O'Shea.
Man of the match Morrison. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: WBA 50% Sunderland 50%.
Attempts on target: WBA 13 Sunderland 4.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside) Attendance 25,311.