In the circumstances, any old win would have done. Yet Albion managed a whole lot more than a bog-standard victory to inject some life into their season in the nick of time.
By Steve Madeley
Steve Clarke claimed Saturday was not quite a perfect day for him and his side.
But it is tough to imagine how things could have gone a whole lot better for the Scot and his players on arguably the highest-stakes occasion of his Hawthorns reign to date.
Three points were of paramount importance and they were safely secured with 14 minutes remaining of a one-sided game.
But aided and abetted by Sunderland’s latest dismal display, Albion gave their gaffer so much more than the sweet taste of victory to accompany his hard-earned glass or two of red on Saturday evening.
There was a second clean sheet in five matches to underline Clarke’s belief that his team have tightened up at the back.
There was a hugely influential display by the recalled James Morrison in the heart of midfield.
And, possibly most pleasing of all, there were key contributions from some of the men Clarke pushed so hard to get into the club before the closure of the transfer window.
Stephane Sessegnon grabbed the Sunday headlines with a debut goal against his former club that somehow seemed inevitable.
But Morgan Amalfitano was the man who truly captured the imagination of Baggies fans with a fabulous all-round display that confirmed his head coach’s assertion that the on-loan Marseille man could well be the surprise package within the club’s sizable summer delivery.
With a much-improved display from marquee summer recruit Nicolas Anelka and some moments of trickery from Scott Sinclair factored into the equation, Saturday felt like a highly significant day just when Clarke and his charges needed it.
When the chips are down, it never hurts to have a stroke and luck and it was Clarke and Co’s good fortune in their hour of need to run into a Black Cats side who appeared on Saturday to be in absolute turmoil.
Paolo Di Canio’s attention-grabbing gestures towards travelling fans at the final whistle appeared to be designed more to enhance his own cult of personality than to help his struggling side deal with a limp, disjointed display that helped the Baggies secure their first victory of the league season.
But, as the old football adage goes, even limited opponents need to be beaten.
And Clarke’s men saw off the Wearsiders not with a fortuitous moment or in a tense struggle, but with hints of the match-winning swagger that underpinned their rise up the top-flight table a year ago. The sight of his team moving the ball with confident purpose for the first time this season might well have pleased the Scot as much as the points that took them out of the Premier League’s bottom three.
So too will the impact of the men the Baggies signed late in the summer transfer window.
Having pushed so hard publicly for reinforcements, Clarke needs the men he championed to make an impression for their new club.
And every one of the new recruits contributed to the season’s first win to a lesser or greater extent.
Sinclair worked tirelessly on the left flank and had a hand in the opening goal while Anelka, whose place in the side had been the focus of much pre-match debate, led the attacking line with strength and conviction and a smatter of classy moments.
Victor Anichebe stepped off the bench to tee up the final goal and as for Sessegnon...
Well, most students of football probably knew the Benin international would open the scoring against his former club in his first appearance since Di Canio showed him the door.
But while the significance of Sessegnon’s goal might have grabbed the national attention, it was the unheralded Amalfitano who really excited the Hawthorns faithful.
After his side had survived some early Black Cats pressure, it was the on-loan Frenchman who delivered the cross from which they edged ahead on 20 minutes.
His ball from the right was missed by the diving Anelka but helped goalwards by Sinclair.
When Keiren Westwood parried the ball it fell inevitably to Sessegnon, who finished emphatically.
While the goalscorer declined to celebrate against his former club, the rest of The Hawthorns did not extend such sympathy.
Amalfitano almost added a first-half goal when he ended a neat Baggies move with a left-footed shot that deflected onto the bar.
After the break, moments after Steven Fletcher had fired over from a glorious chance, and his heavy landing had left his side down to 10 men, Amalfitano loaded another bullet from which Liam Ridgewell’s rare goal effectively put the result beyond doubt with 14 minutes remaining.
He netted a crisp, left-footed volley after Westwood had palmed away Amalfitano’s teasing centre.
Amalfitano fluffed one chance to get on the scoresheet when he tried unselfishly to pick out substitute Anichebe when he had time to close in on goal and shoot.
But he learned his lesson in stoppage time when he collected Anichebe’s perfect lay-off and blasted a powerful effort past Westwood.
It signalled an emphatic end to the Baggies’ goal-drought and completed a thoroughly professional job in emphatic style.
And it left Clarke to reflect on a day he began desperate for any old win but ended with him grateful for so much more.