FRUSTRATED Sunderland were forced to settle for a 13th draw of the season after they were unable to find a way past resilient West Brom.
However, a seventh goalless draw of the campaign owed much to the officials after Sunderland saw a legitimate effort ruled out for offside, while Baggies defender Joleon Lescott was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card.
Sunderland were much-improved from the previous two games and dominated in term of possession and territory, yet just couldn’t find a way past a stubborn West Brom outfit, who showed minimal attacking ambition.
Lescott was lucky not to be sent off within the first five minutes for fouling Danny Graham when he would have been through on goal, while Adam Johnson wrongly saw a goal ruled out on the stroke of half-time.
But while Sunderland remained in the ascendancy in the second half, they couldn’t manage a breakthrough, albeit they extended the gap with the relegation zone to three points.
Lee Cattermole made his first start of 2015, while Jermain Defoe shrugged off the calf injury which kept him out of the FA Cup humiliation against Bradford to resume his place up front - partnering Danny Graham in attack.
The pair were among five changes from Gus Poyet, as he opted for an orthodox 4-4-2, with Adam Johnson and Ricky Alvarez occupying the places out wide.
Patrick van Aanholt was dropped to the bench, with fit-again Anthony Reveillere coming in at left-back, while Santiago Vergini replaced the injured Billy Jones at right-back.
Former Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner started for West Brom, but fellow ex-Black Cat Stephane Sessegnon was dropped to the bench, with ex-Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher returning to the side.
West Brom were hugely fortunate to escape being reduced to 10 men inside the opening five minutes when Cattermole sent a slide-rule pass in between left-back Chris Brunt and centre-half Joleon Lescott.
Lescott appeared to tug Graham back just outside the box, when he would have been through on goal, but after the linesman awarded the foul, referee Mike Jones only issued a yellow card to the centre-half.
From the resulting free-kick, Seb Larsson curled a low, dipping shot into the side netting.
But while Sunderland saw more of the ball in the exchanges that followed, they struggled to test West Brom keeper Ben Foster - Ricky Alvarez slicing a shot well wide from the edge of the box just before the half-hour mark.
Defoe thrashed a cross-come-shot across the face in the 35th minute after a clever reverse pass from Reveillere sent him clear down the left-hand side of the area.
Sunderland had the ball in the net on the stroke of half-time when Adam Johnson tucked it beyond Foster after Alvarez’s floated cross from the right picked him out at the far post.
Johnson was penalised for offside, yet replays showed the winger had been played on by Craig Dawson.
Moments later, Larsson’s low drive from 25 yards was turned around the post by Foster.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 WBA 0
The second half began in scrappy fashion, with neither side making inroads until the 62nd minute when Vergini flashed a header wide from Larsson’s left wing corner.
Sunderland went close from another corner in the 77th minute - substitute Connor Wickham meeting Johnson’s delivery from the right with a near post header that Foster blocked.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 0 WBA 0
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Vergini (van Aanholt 88), Brown, O’Shea, Reveillere, Cattermole, Larsson, Alvarez (Fletcher 68), Johnson, Defoe, Graham (Wickham 68). Subs not used: Mannone, Coates, Bridcutt, Gomez. Booked: Alvarez (11)
WBA: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Lescott, Brunt, Morrison (Baird 73), Fletcher, Yacob, Gardner (McManaman 87), Ideye, Berahino. Subs not used: Myhill, Wisdom, Olsson, Mulumbu, Sessegnon. Booked: Lescott (5), Dawson (29)
Referee: Mike Jones