Sunderland-West Brom Preview
LONDON (SE) - West Bromwich Albion will be looking to build on their first win in seven games when they welcome Sunderland to The Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon.
Steve Clarke's West Brom (8-6-12) had picked up just one point in six games going into their match at Liverpool in the last round of Premier League fixtures, but a superb display by Ben Foster and late goals from Gareth McAuley and Romelu Lukaku earned them a morale-boosting 2-0 victory. With 12 games of the season remaining and the European places still within reach, Clarke is hopeful that the win at Anfield will have lifted his squad.
"Coming off the back of what has been such a difficult run, it was a big result for us," said Clarke. "I've been telling the players for the last six weeks that we were just one win away. When you get one win, you can kick on again and that's the platform we gave ourselves at the start of the season. That allowed us to go on and get 33 points before Christmas, which was a big effort.
"We were always one performance away from getting back on track. However, one result doesn't get away from the fact that it's been a difficult six or seven weeks with not too many positives. We're hopeful that can kick-start us again to get our season going because we know we can still have a really good season and achieve good things."
Sunderland (7-8-11) have slipped to within six points of the drop zone after picking up just one point (and scoring just one goal) in their last three league games. However, the Black Cats' last game was two weeks ago, and the manager Martin O'Neill hopes his team's warm-weather training trip to Dubai will have rejuvenated them for the run-in.
"I would have rather have been playing cup matches, but we had an opportunity to see the sun and get a few proper days' training in, and I think it worked out well," said O'Neill. "What happens over the course of the final third of the season is the most important thing. We start with West Bromwich Albion.
"Hopefully the break will have re-energised the players and got them going. The proof is always in the pudding. I have done this before with other teams, sometimes to fantastic effect."
West Brom are without long-term absentees George Throne and Zoltan Gera, who both have knee injuries. Sunderland have doubts over Lee Cattermole (knee), Danny Rose (hamstring) and James McClean (ankle), but are without Wes Brown (knee).
Sunderland haven't won any of their last six matches against West Brom, losing five. The last three matches at The Hawthorns have all been won by the home side, with a combined score-line of 8-0.
The Baggies won 4-2 when these teams met at the Stadium of Light in November. Gera, Lukaku, Shane Long and Marc-Antoine Fortune scored the goals for the visitors, but Sunderland actually managed more shots and shots on target in their losing effort.