Sunderland and Gus Poyet make the miracle happen

Down and out three weeks ago, the Stadium of Light erupts after victory

Sunderland 2 West Brom 0: Miracles tend to be painfully elusive but Sunderland supporters now know they really can happen. Only three weeks ago Gus Poyet conceded that divine intervention was called for if his side were to be saved from relegation, but a run of four straight wins has transformed the Wearside landscape, securing one of the greatest escapes in Premier League history.

With West Bromwich Albion possessing a significantly superior goal difference to Norwich City, the rubber-stamping of Sunderland’s once apparently impossible survival means that the team from Carrow Road are destined to join Fulham and Cardiff City in the Championship.

The goals were scored by the excellent Jack Colback and Fabio Borini but, not for the first time, Lee Cattermole held Poyet's side together and the enforcer departed to a standing ovation in the 87th minute.

Soon afterwards a near capacity crowd at one of English football’s biggest stadiums unleashed a roar which must have been held 12 miles up the road in Newcastle. An amalgam of thanks, joy and, above all, sheer relief, it sealed a triumph Poyet conceded would represent the greatest achievement of his life.

Poyet has not enjoyed the often bracing north-east weather and he warded off an unseasonably cold and wet May evening by sitting in the dugout with a rug wrapped around his legs for extra warmth.

Within minutes it was discarded, he rose to his feet and pumped thin air with his fists. Marcos Alonso overlapped from left back and having dodged Steven Reid, crossed in Colback's direction.

Out of contract next month, Colback may well be Newcastle United bound this summer. No matter, he has remained one of Sunderland’s most committed and influential players, thriving in a more attacking midfield role under Poyet. Here he arrived in the area just in time to expertly half volley Alonso’s cross beyond Ben Foster.

With Foster having earlier been required to tip a Borini shot over the bar and Gareth McAuley coming within inches of diverting a whipped in Sebastian Larsson corner into his own net, West Brom could have been further behind.

On a night when Cattermole impressed in Poyet’s beloved anchoring midfield role and, a little further forward, Colback once again suggested he is underrated, Pepe Mel’s side were up against it.

Their task toughened once Sebastian Larsson, cleverly exploiting a chink of space, lifted a cute chipped pass into Borini’s path and the Liverpool loanee responded by volleying past Foster.

It was an exquisite move and a superb finish which probably left West Brom counting down the minutes until they could board the plane sitting on the tarmac at Newcastle airport and waiting to fly them back to Birmingham.

Despite odd flashes of skill from Saido Berahino and the Sunderland old boy Stéphane Sessègnon, Mel’s side failed to test Vito Mannone’s reflexes until the brink of half-time.

As the Wearsiders’ player of the season saved Berahino’s curling shot fairly comfortably, Poyet must have felt more than cautiously optimistic.

It seemed a comeback would require the sort of outrageous twist more commonly found in Mel’s acclaimed crime thrillers. Realising that Sunderland were taking the sting out of his side far too easily, the visiting manager and part-time novelist attempted to alter the agenda courtesy of a couple of half-time substitutions.

While Youssouf Mulumbu replaced the immensely disappointing Claudio Yacob in central midfield – where he barely seemed to have touched the ball during a less than authoritative 45 minutes – Craig Dawson replaced Reid.

Mel’s team perked up appreciably but cheered on by a crowd in excess of 45,000, Sunderland remained on course to record a fourth straight Premier League win for the first time since December 2000.

Yet with Mulumbu making a real difference, the game had assumed a slightly different complexion, enduring extended periods without regaining possession.

Poyet felt the need to emerge from his dugout and apparently urge his players to get a grip. He replaced Adam Johnson and Connor Wickham with Liam Bridcutt and Jozy Altidore. The latter could quickly have calmed the stadium’s nerves but instead Altidore shot wide after connecting with Colback’s highly inviting cross.

Another cross, from Borini this time, prompted a low shot from Santiago Vergini which crept, tantalisingly, round the outside of a post. Sunderland, though, had already done enough. As the banners reminded him: “Miracles do happen Gus.”

(Guardian Service)

Latest Stories