Tuesday 26 September 2017

Black Cats rue their bad luck

Neither side were able to break the deadlock on Wearside
Neither side were able to break the deadlock on Wearside

England manager Roy Hodgson watched on as his former side West Brom emerged with a 0-0 draw in controversial circumstances at Sunderland.

Hodgson was making a rare trip to the Stadium of Light, but saw little to cheer him on a chill Wearside afternoon with the Black Cats labouring in their efforts to avoid a second successive relegation fight.

However, it might have been so different had referee Mike Jones seen two key first-half decisions the same way as the home fans among a crowd of 40,943.

Mr Jones opted not to send off last man Joleon Lescott despite awarding a foul for his early challenge on Danny Graham on the advice of assistant Constantine Hatzidakis, who then raised an offside flag to deny Adam Johnson a 45th-minute opener.

Sunderland enjoyed the better of the game, but were unable to find the back of the net - legitimately, at least - for the third game in a row, although they looked far more likely to do so than an unadventurous Baggies side, who have now lost only once in 10 outings in all competitions.

Head coach Gus Poyet, who had hinted in the run-up to the game that he would take a gamble on the fitness of Lee Cattermole after a 10-game absence and Jermain Defoe, who missed the FA Cup fifth-round debacle at Bradford with a niggling calf problem, did just that for a game he could not afford to lose.

Having pleaded with fans to get behind the team in an open letter earlier in the week and urged his players to give the crowd something to shout about, it was referee Jones and his assistants who prompted the biggest reaction at either end of a drab first half.

The game was just five minutes old when Cattermole played striker Graham in behind Lescott.

Graham looked to be clear, but he went to ground as the defender recovered, and the home supporters were on their feet calling for blood as the flag went up.

Jones produced only a yellow card and replays suggested there had been little contact, but there was a tangible sense of injustice as Sebastian Larsson curled the resulting free-kick into the side-netting.

Thereafter, the half unfolded in unspectacular fashion with Cattermole adding a solidity to the Black Cats and opposite number Darren Fletcher probing for the Baggies, although with little success.

James Morrison curled an eighth-minute shot on the turn into goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon's arms, but that was the Romanian's only notable action of the opening 45 minutes.

Baggies midfielder Claudio Yacob was perhaps fortunate to escape without further action when he was lectured by the referee for pushing Defoe to the ground inside the penalty area for the second time while the pair awaited delivery of a corner.

However, that was not the end of the controversy as the home side were denied what they felt was a perfectly good goal on the stroke of half-time.

Ricky Alvarez crossed from the right to the far post, where Johnson controlled before rounding Ben Foster and stabbing home, only for a harsh offside flag to end his celebrations.

Larsson forced a diving save from Foster deep into injury time, but the stalemate remained.

Sunderland resumed where they had left off after the break, as they dominated possession, however West Brom's organisation left little space to exploit.

Full-back Chris Brunt had to block a 55th-minute Alvarez drive after the Argentina international cut inside on to his left foot, and Craig Dawson had to be equally determined to repel Defoe's effort six minutes later.

The home side should have gone ahead from the resulting corner when full-back Santiago Vergini met Larsson's cross unopposed, but he glanced his header wide of the far post.

As the game entered its final quarter, Poyet sent strikers Connor Wickham and Steven Fletcher on for Graham and Alvarez, and Wickham very nearly made a swift impact when he saw Foster bundle away his header from Johnson's 76th-minute corner, and that was as good as it got as the last push fell short.

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