An incident packed game at the Stadium Of Light today saw to it that Sunderland slipped to another defeat while West Bromwich Albion went into third position in the Premier League. Football is a very cruel mistress. See what we made of events today in our match report...
It was certainly an intriguing opening fifteen minutes to the game even if it was devoid of any particular goalmouth incident, as both sides seemed very intent on sticking to their game plans. The Baggies seeming happy to counter-attack while we looked to get bodies in and around the deep-lying playmakers James Morrison and Claudio Yacob.
It took four minutes for the first strike at goal. A relatively tame effort from Adam Johnson following some nice play between Steven Fletcher and Stephane Sessegnon in the build up. Cutting in from his left hand side position, Johnson's right footed effort was well placed, but lacked the power to beat Boaz Myhill.
On the flip side of that there was Peter Odemwingie taking a strike from distance, only to see it deflect off Carlos Cuellar and into the arms of Simon Mignolet for a routine stop.
Some lovely play from Sessegnon nearly brought about his second Goal Of The Season contender in as many weeks. Danny Rose played the ball in from deep the feet of Johnson. The former Manchester City man flicking the ball with the outside of the foot to the Beninese magician who dinked it over Gareth McAuley and let fly a ferocious volley towards goal which Myhill got down well to stop. Shades of Gazza in 1996.
When Mike Dean is in charge you know you're in for a very up and down game, and a moment of controversy came on twenty minutes. Thankfully it turned out in our favour, but it could have been much worse.
Having been booked for what was the first foul of the game, John O'Shea was on a bit of a tightrope. When e collided for a second time with Shane Long it looked as though the vice-captain was set to walk. Even he thought so as he protested his innocence to Mr Dean. It was Long who was on the receiving end of the yellow card for an apparent dive. It wasn't a dive, it wasn't a foul. Dean was simply having a shocker.
For an extended spell in the first half there seemed to be only one team in things, and that was us. Seb Larsson's freekick was headed goalwards by an unmarked Sessegnon forcing a good save from Myhill, while O'Shea would go close with a curling effort moments later.
It came as quite the shock when it was the visitors who took the lead on the half hour. From absolutely nothing Zoltan Gera picked the ball up around 25-yards from goal, though to himself "I'll have some of that" and unleashed a well placed but not unstoppable effort which evaded the grasp of Simon Mignolet for 1-0.
Things went from bad to worse when during our attempt to come back Lee Cattermole tweaked his knee, meaning his day was over and on came Craig Gardner.
If things had already gone from bad to worse, they then went from worse to calamitous as the visitors grabbed a second goal.
West Brom had done a pretty good job taking the sting out the game, and I think even they were surprised when they moved further into the lead through Shane Long. Chris Brunt clipped a ball forward which was miles away from Long being able to latch on to it. A comfortable one for Mignolet? You'd think but somehow it was inexplicably spilled by the Belgian for Long to tap home.
An absolute catastrophe. As a rule I tend to hate remakes of anything. Be it films, TV shows and so forth but I think what I hate more than either of those is Simon Mignolet - so impressive all season - doing his own remake of the infamous Wearside phrase "It's An Easy One For Norman".
Substitute Craig Gardner tested Myhill with a 'trademark' freekick but we went in two goals down thanks to one moment of ingenuity and one of madness.
Quite unusually Martin O'Neill rung the changes at half time. He was very right to do so mind you. John O'Shea came off for James McClean, forcing a reshuffle of the midfield and defence. The right move given O'Shea looked like a walking red card all afternoon, and with Mike Dean in charge there was no room for taking chances.
Phil Bardsley moved into central defence and at the same time became our third captain of the day, Seb Larsson reverted to right back while Johnson came across to the right of midfield.
Simon Mignolet went some way to atoning for his earlier error by standing up well to Shane Long when the Irishman escaped the attentions of Bardsley and Cuellar to get himself through on goal, but aside from that it was one way traffic. Slow moving traffic.
Adam Johnson tried his luck from fully 30+ yards and saw the effort spilled by Boaz Myhill, but that was about as close as we managed to come despite being camped in the West Brom half.
Steven Fletcher headed one of the great many Seb Larsson crosses over the bar, McClean squandered a chance in choosing to shoot from 35-yards rather than play it to someone better positioned.
Despite our pressure we looked vulnerable on the counter-attack to the visitors still. Danny Rose mad a superb tackle to deny Billy Jones who'd got himself into the penalty area, while Peter Odemwingie flashed a powerful drive inches wide of the post.
The 72nd minute was both naughty and nice for Sunderland. And why not since the festive season is approaching. Naughty in the sense that upon Jack Colback coming off for Louis Saha there were a few ironic cheers from certain pockets of the home support. Nice however in that Craig Gardner pulled a goal back.
From the corner of the area his thunderbolt freekick took a big deflection off the wall to wrong foot Myhill and nestle in the top corner. The fight back could have been on, except we didn't really capitalise on having them on the back foot.
A Sessegnon run and shot which was tipped wide was about as good as we could muster before yet another moment of controversy. A penalty which should never have been.
Liam Ridgewell got himself into the area and was looking to cross and Adam Johnson dived in. You can understand why it was given when it's written like that, however there was absolutely no contact at all with Ridgewell who cheated. There's no other way to put it, and Dean was in a buying mood.
Substitute Romelu Lukaku blasted the ball comfortably past Mignolet for 3-1 and seemingly game over.
Things nearly got worse when Mignolet came out to meet Lukaku, changed his mind and Lukaku nearly finished from a tight angle. At the other end, Adam Johnson saw a smashing effort deflected wide, and it brought about our second glimmer of hope.
From the resulting corner Steven Fletcher's header was saved by Myhill but only parried to Sessegnon who was on the line to slam home our second with three minutes of normal time remaining. The onslaught was supposed to be on.
West Brom did a professional job in seeing out time and it was a bit of a sickener when Marc-Antoine Fortune grabbed a fourth goal as we plundered forward with every man. Lukaku slipped him in, Bardsley in trying to get back was beaten all ends up and the ball was dispatched with consummate ease by Fortune with the last kick of the game.
It's a difficult game to judge on. Had it not been for some very fortunate decisions for West Brom, a one in a million moment of madness from Simon Mignolet... It could have all been so different. I guess that's what makes this so frustrating. We just can't get things going at all. On the plus side, we'll not get a better chance than Tuesday to put things right.