Mike Dodds enjoyed a winning start as interim Sunderland boss after two second-half goals fired the Black Cats to a deserved 2-1 victory over West Brom.
Defender Dan Ballard broke the deadlock in the 69th minute before Dan Neil doubled Sunderland’s lead and looked to have wrapped up the points six minutes from time.
West Brom hit back through substitute Brandon Thomas-Asante in the 86th minute but Sunderland held out and brought a three-game winless run to an end as Dodds – who was put in caretaker charge after Tony Mowbray’s sacking on Monday – got off to the perfect start.
The victory lifted the Black Cats briefly back into the top six ahead of the 3pm kick-offs, while for Albion it was a second successive defeat after last week’s loss at home to leaders Leicester.
Sunderland made a confident start and would have been a goal up inside 15 minutes had Jobe Bellingham’s close-range rebound not been wrongly ruled out for onside.
Bellingham – starting up front for the Black Cats in the week his older brother Jude described him as a “thoroughbred striker” – was on hand to tap into an empty net after Alex Palmer could only parry Adil Aouchiche’s strike. The assistant’s flag was raised but replays showed the 18-year-old was clearly onside.
Undeterred, Sunderland remained on the front foot and had a strong penalty shout waved away when Patrick Roberts hit the deck after a weaving run from the right.
West Brom grew into the game and although they did not manage a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes, they finished the first period on top, despite the frustration of losing striker Josh Maja.
Making his first return to Sunderland since leaving the Black Cats four years ago and his first start of the season for the Baggies, Maja’s afternoon was cut short after Ballard’s heavy tackle 10 minutes before the interval.
Sunderland were the better team in the early stages of the second half and came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock 12 minutes after the restart.
After good build-up play from Roberts on the right, Aouchiche’s strike from inside the box crashed back off the post before Jack Clarke’s rebound was superbly saved by Palmer.
Dodds turned to his bench, introducing Alex Pritchard in place of Aouchiche, and the change worked a treat. It was substitute Pritchard who swung in the 70th minute free-kick for Ballard to head home.
Pritchard was again involved in the second goal, setting Neil away, with the midfielder keeping his cool and lifting the ball over Palmer.
Albion responded and two substitutes combined as Thomas-Asante headed in Pipa’s cross from the left. Jeremy Sarmiento had a penalty claim waved away deep in stoppage time.