Final Score: WBA 2 Sunderland 1
A ROMELU LUKAKU double condemned Sunderland to their third successive Premier League defeat despite Stephane Sessegnon’s late goal at the Hawthorns.
The Black Cats remain 13th in the table and are six points clear of the relegation zone.
Lukaku scored in each half to secure the points for the Baggies even though Sessegnon pulled a goal back for the Black Cats towards the end.
O’Neill finally chose to partner Danny Graham with Steven Fletcher and despite going to goal down in the opening 45, the strike pair showed glimpses of a useful partnership.
Overall it was a bright start for the visitors and they had an early chance turned down after John O’Shea’s header was adjudged not to have crossed the line from Adam Johnson’s cross.
Their encouraging start continued when Graham teed up Fletcher on the edge of the area but the Scotsman’s low shot hit the post and he could only direct a follow-up over the bar.
The Black Cat’s early spell seemed to spur the Baggies into action and they could have taken the lead had Shane Long connected with Chris Brunt’s low cross on the line.
Youssef Mulumbu missed a glorious chance moments later when he headed wide from an unmarked position five yards out as the Baggies began to get on top.
Romelu Lukaku did have the ball in the back of the net shortly afterwards, but referee Roger East had already blown for Seb Larsson’s foul on Brunt in the run up.
The decision not to play an advantage incensed the Hawthorns crowd, but in the 35th minute it was forgotten when East awarded the hosts a penalty.
Craig Gardner was penalised for handball inside the area and Lukaku put Steve Clarke’s side ahead with a cool finish.
Sunderland’s bright spell in the early stages had fizzled out, but they were unlucky not to have had a penalty of their own when Johnson’s cross hit Gareth McAuley’s arm in the box.
The Black Cats came close to equalising shortly after the interval when a Larsson cross fell to Sessegnon at the back post, but his shot was cleared off the line by Liam Ridgewell.
It was a positive response from O’Neill’s men, but the Baggies maintained the upper hand with Lukaku causing all the problems.
Simon Mignolet denied the striker twice, while another effort went inches past the far post.
You could sense a second goal for the hosts and it eventually came through Sunderland’s own mistakes.
Titus Bramble sent a weak back pass to Mignolet instead of putting the ball out on the touchline and Lukaku scored after the keeper’s clearance deflected in off the striker.
It was history repeating itself for Mignolet, who gifted the Baggies a goal when the sides met at the Stadium of Light, although this time it was Bramble’s initial mistake that led to the goal.
Going two down gave Sunderland a mountain to climb, but two minutes after conceding they pulled a goal back when Sessegnon curled in from inside the area.
David Vaughan forced Ben Foster into a low save from just outside the area minutes later, while James McClean blasted over from inside the area in stoppage time.