Sunderland's summer euphoria fades with every game

Sunderland 1 West Bromwich Albion 1
Click to follow
The Independent Football

For Sunderland, there was the euphoria that naturally follows promotion from the Championship. For West Bromwich Albion, there was the belief that a dramatic final-day escape from relegation last season would enable them to consolidate their status over the course of this campaign.

After five straight defeats, the harsh reality of life in the top flight had already begun to bite for Sunderland even before the agony of conceding a last-minute equaliser here, while three successive reverses for West Bromwich appeared to suggest that the problems of last season still persist, despite the arrival of £9m worth of new talent.

Yet, it will be the Baggies who have more bounce in their step after Zoltan Gera's last-minute header not only snatched a point from the Black Cats, but also another huge slice of their dwindling confidence. Had Sunderland held on, it would have been their first Premiership victory since December 2002. "If Sunderland had won, it would have given them a bit of confidence," said the West Bromwich Albion manager, Bryan Robson. "We've made it tougher for them because we've knocked the confidence of their players.

"I'd have been under pressure had we lost, but that's the way it is in a relegation fight. You have to be able to play under pressure and we know all about that from last season. This could prove to be a very important point for us."

This was a game decided by set-pieces, Sunderland scoring with their first and only corner of the match, West Brom equalising with their ninth and last. While Sunderland began superbly, the visitors dominated possession, gradually exerting more and more pressure on a Sunderland defence in which Alan Stubbs was outstanding.

Having taken the lead courtesy of Gary Breen's powerful header after seven minutes, the Wearsiders had some decent chances to double the advantage, Breen unable to reach Dean Whitehead's clever free-kick, the midfielder later scuffing a shot from Julio Arca's flick-on when he should have found the target.

In the second half, though, the visitors were looking more menacing. They should have been level in the first half, Jonathan Greening missing from six yards after good work by Robert Earnshaw, but it took them until the 90th minute to get a shot on target, Kelvin Davis tipping a shot from substitute Nathan Ellington around the post.

Sunderland thought they had escaped, just as they did minutes later when Justin Hoyte, on a season's loan from Arsenal, had pulled off a wonderful goal-line clearance to keep out Ronnie Wallwork.

That let Davis off the hook, who had spilled Diomansy Kamara's cross, but when the former Ipswich stopper failed to reach the resulting corner, Gera, a Hungarian international, took full advantage.

Goals: Breen (7) 1-0; Gera (90) 1-1.

Sunderland (4-4-2) Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, Stubbs, Hoyte; Whitehead, Miller (Lawrence, 53), Bassila, Arca (Stead, 80); Gray, Elliott (Le Tallec, 57). Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Caldwell.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2) Kirkland; Watson, Davies, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Wallwork, Johnson, Greening (Kamara, 77); Campbell, Earnshaw (Ellington, 82) Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Chaplow, Albrechtsen.

Booked: West Bromwich Albion Robinson, Watson.

Man of the match: Stubbs.

Attendance: 31,657.