SEATED alongside each other at Upton Park on Monday night, Martin O’Neill and Steve Clarke were united in their aim of learning more about their Premier League peers.
But the discrepancy between the rookie and the seasoned veteran of the dug-out has been stark this year.
Fresh from finally being thrust from an assistant role into the managerial hotseat, Clarke has thrived at the Hawthorns.
Fourth-placed West Brom can boast almost double Sunderland’s points tally, and head to the Stadium of Light tomorrow lunchtime looking for a fourth successive top flight victory.
O’Neill is under no illusions about the task facing his side, yet believes his players are equally aware of the difficulties to Sunderland securing back-to-back wins for the first time since February.
“This is a big game for us, and in many aspects I’m pleased that West Bromwich Albion are doing so well,” said O’Neill.
“Certainly, in the dressing room, there’s not a thought that we won’t have to put a major effort in here to get something out of the game.
“He (Clarke) was sat beside me on Monday night at the West Ham game, but I don’t know whether his aspirations for the season are now different.
“But what I do know is that the points on the board are fantastic.
“West Brom’s opening game of the season was a tough fixture at home to Liverpool.
“They came up big in that and they’ve been able to keep the momentum going from that.
“A couple of early results help greatly and the team has been playing pretty well.
“Even when they lost two consecutive games, they’ve had the wherewithal and determination to fight back again.
“They’ve done exceptionally well and they deserve great credit.”
O’Neill, meanwhile, has applauded the job that rookie manager Clarke has done at the Hawthorns this season.
He added: “Steve is new to management, and has made a great start, but he had plenty of years’ coaching experience behind him before that and is putting it to good use.
“We know that they will be really difficult opponents tomorrow – they play good football and they don’t give up.
“But we have been improving week on week now and there’s an enthusiasm among the players for the fixtures coming up.
“We’ve just got to concentrate on our own game tomorrow and hope that the improvement we’ve shown in recent weeks can now be brought into a home game.”