West Brom supporters have dubbed Steve Clarke "The Special One of Smethwick" and, once again, his players did not disappoint as a fourth successive Premier League win lifted them into third place.
Thanks in part to outstanding performances from Zoltan Gera in a central attacking midfield role and Claudio Yacob as anchor, Clarke's team intensified the pressure on Martin O'Neill. Ominously for the Northern Irishman, Sunderland's two league wins this season have come against opponents reduced to 10 men.
Suddenly, Tuesday's home meeting with QPR has assumed unexpected significance. "Tuesday's a big game," acknowledged O'Neill, who must cope without Lee Cattermole and John O'Shea against Harry Redknapp's latest club after the midfielder and defender sustained knee and calf injuries yesterday, which are likely to keep them on the sidelines for several weeks.
If little is going right for a nonetheless slowly improving Sunderland, West Brom are enjoying their best start to a season since 1953. Suspicions that it might not be Sunderland's day intensified in the 44th minute when Ireland's Shane Long tapped the ball into an unguarded net from close range following Simon Mignolet's awful, entirely uncharacteristic mistake. Sunderland's Belgium goalkeeper inexplicably fumbled Chris Brunt's overhit through pass before watching, mortified, as Long stole the ball.