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Romelu Lukaku's two goals lifted West Bromwich Albion to the 40-point mark for the campaign as they overcame Sunderland to register their first home win for two months.
The on-loan Chelsea striker reached 12 goals for the season - all of which have come in the Barclays Premier League - firstly from the penalty spot and then when charging down a clearance from Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
The Black Cats set up a tense finish through Stephane Sessegnon's reply but Albion held on to keep up their challenge for a European place.
Lukaku is showing the potential to develop into a top-class forward and he received a standing ovation when substituted four minutes from time and replaced by Peter Odemwingie.
The home side were worthy of their success after a scrappy start, with midfield duo Youssouf Mulumbu and James Morrison also making telling contributions.
Sunderland had settled into the game well and home goalkeeper Ben Foster was the first to make a save. The former England international held on to a near-post header from Black Cats captain John O'Shea from an inswinging Adam Johnson corner.
The woodwork also came to West Brom's rescue after 25 minutes when Steven Fletcher cut in from the left and saw his low shot beat the dive of Foster and hit the far post.
Danny Graham, making his first start for Sunderland following his move from Swansea City, had a close-range chance almost instantly but Foster blocked his low half-volley.
The hosts responded and Mulumbu headed wide from close range after attacking a probing Liam Ridgewell centre. Lukaku had the ball in the net after 28 minutes after receiving the ball from Morrison but the whistle had already gone for a foul on the Scotland international by Sebastian Larsson.
However, Lukaku was not to be denied and after 35 minutes put West Brom ahead from the penalty spot for his 11th goal of the season.
Craig Gardner was adjudged to have handled a cross from former Birmingham team-mate Ridgewell and up stepped Lukaku to send Mignolet the wrong way from the spot.
Though Long headed over at the end of the first half after connecting with a Morrison cross, Sunderland started the second half on the offensive and Sessegnon had a shot cleared off the line by Mulumbu following a deep corner from Larsson.
But Lukaku continued to trouble the Sunderland defence and a rising shot stung the palms of Mignolet after good play by Chris Brunt.
Titus Bramble produced a last-ditch tackle to block Morrison's close-range attempt as West Brom searched for the second goal - and with 16 minutes left Lukaku doubled their lead.
The Belgium striker's perseverance forced Bramble into a mis-timed back pass and he then charged down Mignolet's clearance which flew into the net.
Sunderland hit back and in the 79th minute Sessegnon curled a shot past Foster and over the head of Ridgewell on the line to reduce the arrears, but Steve Clarke's side finished the stronger and were unlucky to see Mignolet keep out a Brunt volley while Odemwingie flashed a shot inches wide after replacing Lukaku, who had left the ground to a standng ovation.
West Brom head coach Steve Clarke: "Lukaku is in a really rich vein of form. You could see that with his second goal, when you're playing that well you get a little bit of luck. Physically, he's a great specimen, but he has quick feet for a big man. It's been good for us, good for Rom, and probably good for Chelsea as well."
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill: "I felt we should have got something out of the game. That's the last three matches we've played where we shouldn't have been beaten. Their penalty gave them big lift. They got the help of a bizarre second goal. But we were never out of the game.
"We should've scored two or three times before West Brom's second goal. Lukaku was very strong and he looks like he has a good future ahead of him. He was a handful."
|02 Mar 2013||v Chelsea (A)|
|09 Mar 2013||v Swansea (H)|
|16 Mar 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|30 Mar 2013||v West Ham (A)|
|06 Apr 2013||v Arsenal (H)|
|20 Apr 2013||v Newcastle (H)|