Sunderland's sights go from Europe to the Championship

Sunderland 2 West Bromwich Albion 3

At least Devon Loch got into the home straight at Aintree before his collapse. Sunderland have been performing an impression of Dick Francis's 1956 Grand National mount for 10 weeks now.

Back on 22 January, in the wake of Darren Bent's departure to Aston Villa, they went to Blackpool and produced a vibrant attacking display which earned them a 2-1 victory and put them sixth in the Premier League table with 37 points – one point behind Spurs and Chelsea. Despite the sale of their chief goalscorer, Steve Bruce's side had their sights on European horizons. Eight matches, seven defeats, and one solitary point later, Sunderland are looking anxiously over the shoulder towards the relegation trapdoor.

Eight days ago, they were a shadow of a team at Manchester City, fortunate to escape with a 5-0 defeat. On Saturday, they ended a goal-drought of seven and a half hours and held the lead twice but were outclassed by a West Bromwich Albion side travelling in the opposite direction.

Since 22 January, the Baggies have bagged 13 points more than Sunderland. At the Stadium of Light, they showed all of the character, cohesion, confidence and class that has been galvanised under Roy Hodgson's stewardship. They are now up into the top half of the table, a point ahead of Sunderland.

"We are lucky that the players are playing with a lot of confidence," Hodgson reflected. "Sunderland are not playing with that confidence but I am sure they have too much talent to be involved in a relegation fight."

We shall see. Bruce made four changes to his starting line-up and the reshuffle looked to have achieved the desired effect when Nicky Shorey, under pressure from Ahmed Elmohamady, headed a cross from Asamoah Gyan into his own net – and when, after Peter Odemwingie had pounced on a defensive lapse to equalise, Phil Bardsley put Sunderland 2-1 ahead with a thumping 25-yard drive.

In the aftermath, Bruce lamented that his defence had been "all over the place" in the second half but his midfield also went awol, allowing West Bromwich to string together the slick passing moves that set up neat finishes from Youssouf Mulumbu and Peter Scharner, both courtesy of Odemwingie prompts. Bruce's strikers were powder-puff in the second half, too.

As he surveyed the damage, which also included injuries to John Mensah, Kieran Richardson and Anton Ferdinand, the one crumb of comfort was the six-point cushion between his stalling side and the bottom three.

"I never thought I'd be looking over at the bottom end," he said, ruefully. "We're in a relegation battle and it's up to ourselves to get out of it. We need to go and win a couple of games quickly."

Next up for Bruce just happens to be a trip back to Birmingham – followed by a visit from Wigan. He desperately needs some points from those reunions. The natives on Wearside are getting restless.

Scorers: Sunderland Shorey (og) 10, Bardsley 31. West Bromwich Odemwingie 28, Mulumbu 54, Scharner 72. Subs: Sunderland Ferdinand 5 (Mensah, 12), Zenden 5 (Richardson, h-t), Sessegnon (Ferdinand, 78). West Brom Morrison (Brunt, 78), Fortune (Cox, 85), Tamas (Odemwingie, 90). Booked: Sunderland Rich-ardson, Cattermole, Ferdinand. W Brom Tamas. Man of the match Odemwingie. Rating 8/10.

Possession Sunderland 52% West Brom 48%.

Shots on target Sunderland 4 West Brom 8.

Referee P Walton (Northants). Att 41,586.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week