A three-goal hammering at the hands of the Premier League’s bottom club would be galling enough at the best of times for Sunderland.
But for it to coincide with the triumphant second coming of Roy Keane into management, albeit in the dark underbelly of the Championship, must have represented the ultimate ignominy for Ricky Sbragia and his chastened players.
As the Scot looked on helplessly from the away dug-out, the Wearsiders’ 3,000-strong travelling contingent would have been forgiven for thinking what might have been had Keane not deemed his relationship with the club’s board irreparable.
Sunderland were slumping when Keane left dramatically in December but they were still well clear of danger, having at one point reached the dizzy heights of 10th under the Cork man’s leadership this season.
It seems inconceivable that Keane would have allowed his players to free-fall into danger so meekly, or, indeed, excused a performance as dire as this on Saturday.
Sbragia, too, was deeply unimpressed but he needs to find answers fast if Sunderland are not to book an earlier-than-expected reunion with Keane in the second tier next season.
“I can’t explain the performance,” he said. “We’ve got it all to play for and we looked disinterested.
“We’ve got to get back on track and make sure we are much more committed against Everton on Saturday, show a bit more determination and belief and play as a team.
“We need to make sure we get more points. It is nervous down there at the bottom. We have a bit of a cushion but the gap can close.
“We will look at the video of this on Monday, where we went wrong. It wasn’t acceptable and we got exactly what we deserved – and that was absolutely nothing.”
Sbragia’s side achieved the apparently impossible on Saturday — making West Bromwich look Premier League class.
Albion remain almost certainly doomed to an immediate return to the Championship but such was their dominance in this game that manager Tony Mowbray was daring to dream of an unlikely escape.
“That result has given us a glimmer of hope,” he said. “Of course, if we lose next week at Tottenham, and the teams around us get results, it’s going to be very close to being over for us and a pipe dream.
“But if we win at Tottenham and a few results go our way, then you are looking at Wigan at home, and if we can win that you never know.
“It is right we keep believing, that we give the fans a little bit of hope, and that our season can be extended in terms of having something to play for.”
Albion were bright throughout and drew a deserved reward five minutes before the interval when Abdoulaye Meite flicked on Jonathan Greening’s corner and Jonas Olsson shot home.
The impressive Chris Brunt slid slide in his ninth goal of the season early in the second half and the rout was completed late on when Brunt teed up Argentine substitute Juan Carlos Menseguez.
WEST BROM (4-4-2): Carson 7, Zuiverloon 6, Meite 7 (Martis 46, 6), Olsson 7, Robinson 7, Koren 6, Dorrans 6 (Menseguez 64, 7), Greening 7, Brunt 8, Simpson 5 (Mulumbu 46, 6), Fortune 7.
Subs Not Used: Kiely, Filipe Teixeira, Borja Valero, Wood.
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Fulop 5, Bardsley 7, Davenport 5, Ferdinand 5, Collins 6, Edwards 5 (Malbranque 54, 5), Tainio 6 (Healy 87, 5), Reid 4 (Whitehead 52, 5), Richardson 6, Cisse 5, Jones 4.
Subs Not Used: Colgan, Murphy, Leadbitter, McShane.
REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Lancashire) 7: Refused to issue a single booking, which made a pleasant change.
MATCH RATING: *** Albion will be wondering how they ended up in such a mess with displays like this, although Sunderland were woeful.
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