Sunderland ensured their Barclays Premier League safety and as good as condemned Norwich City to the Championship with a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at the Stadium of Light.
First-half goals by Jack Colback and Fabio Borini continued Sunderland's "miracle" run – a phrase used by head coach Gus Poyet after Saturday's 1-0 success at Manchester United – as the Black Cats avoided the drop with a fourth straight victory.
West Brom, three points clear of the relegation zone, remain within third-bottom Norwich's grasp heading into the final round of fixtures on Sunday, but a huge goal difference swing makes Pepe Mel's team effectively safe from the dreaded trapdoor.
Colback opened the scoring after 13 minutes and Borini made it two just after the half hour with his third goal in his last four matches, as the visitors struggled to get going.
West Brom responded with a second-half fightback, but could not breach Sunderland's rearguard to earn the point they needed for mathematical safety.
After a cautious opening, with both teams defending deeply, Sunderland – unchanged for the fifth match in a row – created the first opportunity in the seventh minute when Borini found himself in space 30 yards out, and his fierce drive was smartly turned over by Ben Foster in the Albion goal.
Bug Sunderland were soon ahead, full-back Marcos Alonso providing a cross from the left which Colback reached first, ahead of two defenders, to prod a finish that bounced over Foster for only his third goal of the season.
Sunderland continued to do most of the pressing, with Adam Johnson enjoying a lot of freedom on the right flank and the winger's run and whipped cross after 23 minutes caused brief panic in the Albion defence before the ball was nervously hacked clear by Diego Lugano.
But the hosts doubled their lead just after the half hour with a beautifully crafted goal. Sebastian Larsson spotted the run of Borini and found him with a lovely chipped pass that the on-loan Liverpool forward steered neatly beyond the advancing Foster.
The first half ended with Albion creating their first serious opportunity, when a good run by Saido Berahino and curling shot from the edge of the box was pushed away by Vito Mannone at full stretch.
West Brom looked the more lively side after Mel's half-time team talk and Victor Anichebe came within inches of getting on the end of substitute Craig Dawson's low right-wing cross at the back post after 56 minutes.
Two minutes later, Stephane Sessegnon – given a good reception by the home fans on his return to Sunderland – struck a shot narrowly wide from 30 yards as the visitors continued to respond well.
Sessegnon was again the danger man just past the hour mark when his weaving run beat two defenders, but he screwed his left-footed shot wide from 15 yards.
Jozy Altidore, only just on the pitch as a second-half substitute, might have put the game beyond doubt when he stretched to send a shot wide from eight yards with the goal at his mercy, after Colback had found him with a left-wing cross.
A good sweeping move set up Santiago Vergini on the right-hand side of the box with 21 minutes remaining, but his drilled finish flew inches wide of the left-hand post, and with both teams trading attacks, the encounter reached a stalemate as Pepe Mel’s side slipped to back-to-back defeats, while Sunderland celebrated beating the drop.
Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet: "I don't know if you will see something similar ever again. We are the second team in the Premier League to be bottom at Christmas and stay up. With [Manchester] City, Chelsea and [Manchester] United away from home, to be seven points away from safety and to do it with a game to spare is amazing.
"It's been an incredibly difficult season. For moments it looked like we were going down. I will start believing in miracles from now on and it's one of the best days of my life today."
West Brom manager Pepe Mel: "I am extremely disappointed. I would like to apologise to fans who made the long trip. We still have a very important game on Sunday and I hope we play very differently.
"We played with very little intensity in first half. I don't understand what happened. It wasn't good. We were better second half but Sunderland beat us in terms of intensity. They have had a really good month and I congratulate them."
"What we really need to try and do is to try and change the image that we are giving against Stoke City."
|11 May 2014||v Swansea (H)|
|29 Nov 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|03 Dec 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|06 Dec 2014||v Liverpool (A)|
|13 Dec 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|21 Dec 2014||v Newcastle (A)|