West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Sunderland
ROMELU Lukaku's brace set West Brom on their way to victory against a Sunderland side which has picked up just seven of 21 available points since the turn of the year.
Martin O'Neill's side were beaten for the third consecutive game and sit in 14th, just five points above the relegation zone with only 11 games remaining.
Lukaku struck after 33 minutes from the penalty spot, adding a second 15 minutes from the end in fortunate fashion.
Sunderland got a 79th minute consolation through Stephane Sessegnon.
O'Neill switched to a 4-4-2 formation after using 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 for much of the season, introducing Danny Graham alongside Steven Fletcher for his full Sunderland debut.
Steve Clarke also opted for a rigid 4-4-2, partnering Shane Long and Lukaku as Peter Odemwingie returned the host's bench.
In the 23rd minute Sunderland wasted through good opportunities as Graham and Fletcher linked up well.
Graham found Fletcher on the edge of the area for the first chance, the Scot hitting Ben Foster's right-hand post with a low left-footed effort from outside the area.
Following up, Fletcher then fired comfortably over at the third attempt as he snatched at the chance.
Thirteen minutes later and West Brom were ahead when Craig Gardner was adjudged to have handled the ball.
Baggies' left-back Liam Ridgewell skipped down the left before swinging in a cross which hit Gardner's arm inside the penalty area.
Lukaku stepped up to score from 12 yards with ease - the second time he had scored a penalty against the Black Cats this season.
Five minutes after the break and Sessegnon should have brought parity to the scores.
Seb Larsson's inswinging corner found the Benin international at the far-post, Sessegnon failing to react quickly enough and only succeeding in sending a weak effort towards goal which Yussuf Mulumbu cleared on the line.
Sunderland would pay for their profligacy, and 15 minutes from time, Lukaku added a second in fortuitous circumstances.
Racing onto Titus Bramble's appalling back pass, the big Belgian deflected Simon Mignolet's clearance back past his international team mate and into the top-corner of the net.
Five minutes later Sunderland halved the deficit, substitute James McClean sending in a low cross which Jonas Olsson could only clear as far as the lurking Sessegnon, who bent past Foster from the edge of the area.
West Bromwich Albion: Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Morrison (Fortune), Mulumbu, Yacob, Brunt (c); Long (Dorrans) & Lukaku (Odemwingie).
Subs not used: Myhill (GK), Rosenberg, Jones & Tamas.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, O`Shea (c), Bramble, Colback; Sessegnon, Larsson (Vaughan), N`Diaye, Johnson (McClean); Fletcher& Graham.
Subs not used: Westwood (GK), Bardsley, Kilgallon, Mangane & Cuellar.
Attendance: 25 924
Referee: Mr R East.