Sam Allardyce’s first match in charge did nothing to reduce the size of the task facing Sunderland’s new manager if he is to stave off a season in the relegation zone.
A match marked by two controversial incidents ended in a sixth defeat of the season for the winless Black Cats, who will go into next weekend’s derby against Newcastle bottom of the Premier League if their north-east rivals avoid defeat at home to Norwich today.
Saturday's action ended with opposing players scuffling on the pitch after Albion’s former Sunderland winger, James McClean, chose to celebrate his side’s win by running to the visiting fans and pointing a clenched fist in their direction.
Sunderland fans had been goading the Irishman over the incident in 2014 that marred his time on Wearside, when he refused to wear a shirt embroidered with a Remembrance Day poppy.
His response prompted a number of Sunderland players to confront McClean on the pitch before an Albion teammate ushered him away.
Tony Pulis, the Albion manager, said: “I did not see the incident as I was already in the dressing room, but if he has been out of order I will deal with it.”
Allardyce was more concerned over the decisive goal early in the second half, which was tapped in by Saido Berahino after Sunderland’s goalkeeper, Costel Pantilimon, dropped a Chris Brunt cross under a challenge.
Pantilimon was booked after protesting he had been fouled.
“He was not the only one that was unhappy,” Allardyce said. “We never looked like conceding a goal in the whole 90 minutes. It was not our fault that we lost, it was the referee’s for not giving a free kick.
“When our 6ft 7in tall goalkeeper has got the ball in his hands and his feet off the ground, it doesn’t matter how big he is when the opposition centre forward is jumping into him.”
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