Preview: West Bromwich Albion vs. Sunderland

Sports Mole previews a Premier League opening-day game between two teams who narrowly avoided the drop last term as West Brom host Sunderland at The Hawthorns.

Two sides who only narrowly avoided relegation last season meet in their 2014-15 Premier League opener as West Bromwich Albion host Sunderland.

The Black Cats produced the "miracle" that manager Gus Poyet admitted was needed when they were bottom of the table with six games remaining to eventually survive by a margin of five points.

Meanwhile, Albion only finished one place above the drop zone during a season in which they changed bosses twice and were never able to match the top-half standards that they set in 2013-14.

Alan Irvine, who had been out of management for three years and has never managed in the Premier League, was the surprise choice to replace the always insecure Spaniard Pepe Mel earlier this summer.

The former Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End boss has brought in as many as eight players to try to ensure that the Baggies do not find themselves in the same perilous position come May.

Ex-England international centre-back Joleon Lescott is arguably the marquee signing, but the 31-year-old is unlikely to feature at The Hawthorns on Saturday as he nurses a knee problem. James Morrison, Stephane Sessegnon and Gareth McAuley will also probably miss out.

Strengthening the defence has been a priority for Irvine, with four full-backs recruited and several bids rebuffed for Burnley target Craig Dawson. Jason Davidson and Sebastien Pocognoli will vie for the left-back spot and Liverpool loanee Andre Wisdom and Cristian Gamboa likewise on the other flank.

Their only notable attacking addition, £8.5m club-record signing Brown Ideye, is a doubt for this weekend as work permit issues continue to delay his West Brom career after his move from Dynamo Kiev.

Craig Gardner, who left Sunderland to join the Baggies at the end of last season, should be handed a debut, but Billy Jones, who moved in the opposite direction, is a fitness worry for the Black Cats.

Emmanuele Giaccherini also faces a late fitness test, but Steven Fletcher seems to have put his injury problems behind him and could start up front alongside contract rebel Connor Wickham.

The 20-year-old forward, who was the subject of a failed £4m bid from West Ham United this week, played a major role in Sunderland's unlikely escape last term, as did Fabio Borini, who continues to debate his future, with Liverpool having accepted a £14m bid from the Wearsiders for his services.

Poyet may not have been able to get the Italian through the door yet, but Patrick van Aanholt and Jack Rodwell could be smart acquisitions and are in line for debuts in the West Midlands. Costel Pantilimon may have to be patient, though, with Vitor Mannone expected to retain his place in goal.

Possible starting lineups

West Brom: Foster; Wisdom, Dawson, Olsson, Pocognoli; Gardner, Yacob, Mulumbu, Brunt; Berahino, Anichebe

Sunderland: Mannone; Vergini, Brown, O'Shea, Van Aanholt; Larsson, Cattermole, Rodwell, Johnson; Fletcher, Wickham

Sports Mole says: 0-1

Who will win Saturday's match between West Brom and Sunderland at The Hawthorns?

West Brom
West Brom
Adam Johnson of Sunderland celebrates scoring a hat trick during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Sunderland at Craven Cottage on January 11, 2014
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