Sunderland entwined with West Brom Albion again for 2014-15 Premier League fixtures

Gus Poyet
Gus Poyet
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WEST BROM proved to be Sunderland’s dancing partners in two of the defining moments of the 2013-14 campaign.

At the Hawthorns in September, Sunderland’s collapse prompted the final episode in the Paolo Di Canio pantomime. The Italian’s posturing in front of the away end at the conclusion was one of the ‘seen to be believed’ moments in a season full of them.

The Baggies then ultimately proved to be the vanquished opponents in the penultimate game of the season as the Black Cats completed the Great Escape.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that the start of a hopefully more emotionally-stable season begins at West Brom.

It’s an opening day fixture which provides plenty of sub-plots.

Ex-Baggie Billy Jones will hope to make his Sunderland debut at his former stomping ground, while Craig Gardner faces the reverse situation after returning to the Midlands following the end of his contract at the Stadium of Light.

Then there’s new West Brom boss Alan Irvine; facing his first game at the helm after a decidedly mixed reaction to his surprise appointment as successor to Pepe Mel.

But it’s a curtain-raiser which Sunderland will hope to profit from, particularly given the tension which persists among West Brom supporters - notably to chairman Jeremy Peace - after they stumbled over the finishing line to Premier League safety last season.

On paper, it’s the most inviting fixture of the opening five games.

Stadium of Light clashes against Manchester United and Tottenham - both with new managers at the helm - are daunting starts to Sunderland’s home programme.

Like last season, the fixture computer has decided that the bulk of the Premier League’s big guns will visit Wearside before Christmas.

Complementing those pair of glamour games are trips to newly-promoted QPR and Burnley - never the best time of the season to face sides still blessed with the momentum and feel-good factor which stems from emerging from the Championship.

But worrying about games on paper or highlighting specific encounters as points bankers is a fruitless exercise. The Great Escape should serve as the perfect lesson about that cliché for a generation to come.

In reality, after all the build-up to the new fixtures being revealed, all supporters really care about is who Sunderland face on the opening day and when the derbies take place.

Having to wait until December 20 to tackle the Magpies and attempt a fourth successive victory over Alan Pardew’s side will seem like an eternity to many.

It will decide the level of festive spirit in tens of thousands of households over the Christmas period.

But continuing his Midas touch in the derby will currently be at the furthest reaches of Gus Poyet’s mind.

All the head coach will hope is that by Christmas this year, Sunderland can avoid being in the position where every entry in the fixture list over the second half of the season is accompanied by the phrase “do or die”.

The quest for a campaign accompanied by slightly less nail-biting begins at the Hawthorns on August 16