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Sunderland pull off the Great Escape to stay in Premier League
FANTASTIC FABIO: Fabio Borini, with Adam Johnson, celebrates in trademark fashion after scoring Sunderland's second goal in last night's crucial 2-0 win against West Brom at the Stadium of Light which sealed the club's place in the Premier League
Full-time: Sunderland 2 West Bromwich Albion 0
THE Great Escape was completed at the Stadium of Light last night and there was something fitting about the fact West Bromwich Albion were the opponents.
It was a trip to The Hawthorns which proved the nadir of Paolo Di Canio's short, turbulent reign last September. On that occasion, a dispirited squad, which had had the heart ripped out of it by the Italian's hardline approach, caved in like relegation certainties.
Less than 24 hours later, the dressing room rebellion led to Di Canio's sacking and gradually his successor, Gustavo Poyet, repaired damaged confidence and got Sunderland playing again.
Last night his players put on a united front once more, showing the togetherness to get them over the line to ensure Sunderland will be playing Premier League football for an eighth successive season.
It has not been as straight forward as Poyet, nor anyone else associated with Sunderland, would have liked, but this morning everyone on Wearside can wake up knowing the primary mission has been accomplished.
This time around West Brom simply had no answer to a Sunderland first half performance which deserved to earn the points that makes it impossible for Norwich City to catch them.
It is now clear the Canaries will join Fulham and Cardiff City in the Championship next season after Jack Colback's 13th minute opener was followed by Fabio Borini's brilliant ninth goal just after half an hour.
Sunderland's incredible revival has seen them finish in style, claiming 13 points from a possible 15 going in to the final weekend, winning four successive Premier League games for the first time since 2000.
Such a run was achieved despite the fact they looked dead and buried after a home defeat to Everton left them seven points adrift with six matches remaining just a month ago.
A final day victory over Swansea City on Sunday at the Stadium of Light could even see them climb two more places to the dizzy heights of 12th; an incredible prospect considering how they have spent the vast majority of the campaign rooted to the foot of the division.
For the fifth consecutive game Poyet sent out the same team and his players displayed all the confidence built up from that run in the opening exchanges against West Brom.
With the Baggies already pretty much assured of a place in the top-flight next season because of their far superior goal difference over Norwich, the onus was on Sunderland to deliver. It showed.
OLD BOY: Sebastian Larsson tangles in the air with West Brom's former Sunderland attacker Stephane Sessegnon
While West Brom struggled to make an impression in the final third, Sunderland regularly created space at the other end of the pitch. Ben Foster, the visitors' England keeper, had already made a flying save to his right from Borini when the breakthrough arrived.
West Brom's slow start meant gaps appeared across the pitch for red and white shirts to exploit and exploit was exactly what they did throughout the first half.
First of all left-back Marcos Alonso was allowed to run deep in to the defensive half down the flank largely undetected and he drove in a delightful low delivery. There was still work to be done, but Colback charged ahead of Chris Brunt to direct a finish beyond Foster to his right.
That merely increased the belief within the Sunderland ranks to get the job done. Every time West Brom worked a way towards the penalty area, a well-organised Sunderland backline regularly thwarted the advances.
And with Lee Cattermole as determined and resilient as ever in front of them, West Brom found it really difficult to make progress which made for a quiet night for Vito Mannone.
With the exception of a few clearances every now and then and a late save from Saido Berahino in the first half, Foster's handling and presence was far busier than his Italian counterpart. He was unable to do anything about the second Sunderland goal, which was Premier League class just after half an hour.
When Borini continued his run in to the area having rolled a pass inside to Seb Larsson, the Sweden international declined to shoot and instead nonchalantly lifted a return pass in to the path of his team-mate.
CRUCIAL STRIKE: Fabio Borini scores Sunderland's second of the evening
Borini, still faced with the task of conjuring up a bit of magic, delivered. The 23-year-old stretched to apply the sweetest of volleys over Foster to give Sunderland the extra bit of breathing space they required and deserved.
As the half-time whistle approached, there was the Mannone stop to deny Berahino to think about. After that was dealt with, Sunderland headed for the dressing room to a rapturous applause and satisfaction at a job almost complete.
Pepe Mel, the West Brom boss, was clearly frustrated with his side's performance and brought on Youssouf Mulumbu to shore up a weak midfield and Craig Dawson to replace the struggling Steven Reid.
The tinkering worked, to a certain extent. West Brom gained a greater foothold in the game and forced Sunderland on to the back foot more even if Mannone was still not really posed too many questions.
Had Dawson's cross to the back post, after he was afforded the freedom of Alonso's flank, ten minutes after the restart not evaded Victor Anichebe by inches then West Brom could have been back in it.
Former Sunderland forward Stephane Sessegnon also fluffed a chance to score when he darted in the area, but Sunderland never really looked in serious danger.
The night would have been capped had Jozy Altidore, the American striker who has struggled to make an impact in a difficult first season, turned in Colback's cross to add a third.
But Sunderland, who also went close when Santiago Vergini fired wide after a free-flowing move from left to right, had already done enough. With the theme tune of the Great Escape ringing around the stands, Sunderland survived.