ONSIDE: Shooting stats not working for Sunderland

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Sunderland were known as the shot-shy side at the beginning of the season and we thought that was the reason for our woes.

In the first five outings, we only managed a mere 12 shots on target yet we remained unbeaten in games against Arsenal, Reading, Swansea, Liverpool and West Ham.

However, over the last three outings, they have hit the mark a total of 19 times, but lost every time.

Only two of those 19 efforts – which doesn’t include the awful miss by James McClean at the death on Saturday – have been converted into goals, and one of those was from the penalty spot.

The personnel aren’t the issue, Martin O’Neill named his most attack-minded line-up of the season at The Hawthorns.

Sunderland have to retain belief that if the chances are being created, then the goals will come because O’Neill cannot do much differently with his starting 11, at least while Danny Rose and Lee Cattermole remain sidelined.

Three centre-halves among the substitutes on Saturday showed the lack of depth in Sunderland’s squad, with McClean the only available replacement who could be classed as an attacking alternative.

But the 4-4-2 formation to which O’Neill relented provided a marked improvement to Sunderland’s attacking threat and will surely be retained.

Introducing Danny Graham was a bold step against a side boasting the third best home record in the league, but one which needed to be made.

Neither did O’Neill reduce Steven Fletcher’s threat by handing Graham his full debut.

Sunderland played a genuine, orthodox 4-4-2, where the two frontmen alternated in dropping deep to link the play, but essentially remained on the toes of the Baggies’ centre-halves.

Encouragingly, there were signs that the pair can work in tandem too.

In the first 25 minutes, Sunderland controlled proceedings and kept possession well. But there was no reward. And when the quickfire efforts of Graham and Fletcher banished the Baggies from their lethargy, the hosts began to dominate.

Similarly, at the start of the second half, Sunderland pinned the Baggies back, but couldn’t muster an equaliser and the threat of Romelu Lukaku on the break eventually took its toll.

The inconsistency of the bottom four have ensured the Black Cats can still maintain a healthy five-point buffer with the relegation zone.

But that won’t last forever.

The next three games against Fulham, QPR and Norwich will prove pivotal in Sunderland’s season and anything less than a six-point haul will keep the Wearsiders lingering in that nervy area immediately above the basement scrap.

- Martin Dunn