A beautiful sunny day on the equinox greeted the football fans who headed to The Hawthorns.
Fans of both sides were anxious and hopeful of a first victory of the season against struggling opposition. A smaller than usual, but nonetheless stellar, gathering of WBA-MAD posters had gathered in The Sportsman pre match and were reasonably optimistic when news of the starting XI filtered through.
Albion started the brighter side and dominated possession for the first 10 minutes before Sunderland took control for the next 10 – though neither side threatened the opposition's goal during the opening period.
The first real chance produced the first goal and it was scored, as often is the case, by a former favourite of the opposing side, Stephane Sessegnon. He started the move that led to the goal playing the ball out to Morgan Amalfitano who produced a superb cross that Anelka just missed but fell to Sinclair who saw Sunderland keeper Westwood push his goalbound effort out. Fortunately for the Baggies, Sessegnon had moved into the box and was on hand to fire home into an empty net.
Both teams had chances to increase the scoreline before half time with the impressive Morgan Amalfitano having a goalbound drive deflected onto the bar and Adam Johnson likewise having a shot deflected wide by Jonas Olsson.
I spent a few minutes with Des Thorpe, who was well impressed with the Tony Brown special matchday programme.
Albion looked the more likely to score the second goal of the game with Amalfitano proving a handful for the Sunderland defence. With about 20 minutes left, Albion made a double substitution taking off Sinclair and Anelka, replacing them with Yacob and Anichibe. At the same time Sunderland made their third change with Cattermole replacing Gardner. This was a decision that was to have a deep impact on the game.
Three minutes later, Steven Fletcher had a great chance to equalise for the visitors running on to an inviting cross from Sunderland's MOM Adam Johnson. He volleyed his effort over the bar and his momentum took him forward and into Billy Jones who had dived in to attempt to block the effort. Fletcher went down hard on his shoulder and was unable to continue to take part leaving Sunderland to play out the game with 10 men.
Within minutes Albion doubled their lead. Amalfitano was again the provider. His low cross was parried by Westwood into the path of the arriving Liam Ridgewell, who volleyed in from an angle for his second goal for the club. Sunderland were defeated, depleted, deflated and, if there was to be another goal, it was always going to be from the home team. So it proved to be, though it didn't arrive until injury time.
Victor Anichebe controlled the ball and laid it off to Amalfitano, who drilled it home right footed into the far corner of the net. Note to managers: you don't need to play your wingers on the wrong wing in order for them to cut in and score!
It was three vital points for Albion and a deserved victory. Steve Clarke got the line up correct, forsaking one of the two defensive midfielders for an attacking link up man. Ridgewell had his best game for a long, long time. Myhill looked very confident in goal, no real saves to make but dealt with every cross as competently as Foster does. This gives a reassuring air to the defence. Olsson and McAuley were solid again, as they have been all season. Sessegnon did well on his debut, proving a useful link between defence and attack. Sinclair was lively but was the least productive of the new signings. Anchibe looks like he can lead the line well; Anelka is a worry for any defence though didn't look like scoring.
So to Morgan Amalfitano. At last we have a proper, tricky winger who can provide beautiful crosses, cut inside and fire shots at goal. As an added bonus, he works back and helps his full back out too. It's a long time since we had a player of this type in the top flight, probably not since Peter Barnes. The songsmiths need to get to work on a song for the lad! MOM by a country mile, this despite the encouraging performances of many of the players on show.
Note to Steve Clarke: Don't tinker!
Have your say on Albion's win here at Baggies Banter.