The two sides clung onto their top flight status by their fingernails last term and the hosts are being tipped for another difficult season after hiring an unproven boss
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The 56-year-old Scotsman had not held a first-team managerial position since being sacked by then third-tier outfit Sheffield Wednesday in February 2011.
Record signing Brown Ideye could prove key to West Brom's hopes, but - after scoring five goals in 19 league appearances for Dynamo Kiev last term - the forward's pre-season has been blighted by visa issues.
Joleon Lescott - West Brom's other major signing, who joined on a free transfer from Manchester City - will miss out with a knee injury and fellow defender Gareth McAuley (calf) is also expected to be absent for the season-opener on Saturday.
Having lost their last three pre-season fixtures, preparation has been far from ideal for West Brom, who have also added former Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner, Cristian Gamboa, Sebastien Pocognoli, Andre Wisdom and Jason Davidson to their squad.
However, Irvine is targeting a fast start as his men bid to avoid another relegation fight and said: "We need to improve on last season.
"We don't want to be looking over our shoulder. Like many others we want to get to 40 points as soon as possible. We will reassess from there. But that's our first aim."
James Morrison (knee) is also likely to miss out for West Brom, who finished 17th last term - two points and three places behind Sunderland.
Wins in four of their last five matches kept Gus Poyet's men in the Premier League, against the odds, but Sunderland will know a repeat of last term's disastrous start could cost them their top-flight status.
Poyet's main transfer activity has seen Jack Rodwell join from Manchester City for a fee reported to be in the region of £10 million.
The England midfielder is the pick of Sunderland's seven signings, with ex-West Brom man Billy Jones, Will Buckley, Costel Pantilimon, Jordi Gomez, Patrick van Aanholt and Santiago Vergini having also arrived at the Stadium of Light.
Jones (hamstring) is a doubt for Saturday's clash while attacker Emanuele Giaccherini (groin) will miss out, having injured himself in last week's 2-0 friendly win over Real Betis, the highlight of a largely positive pre-season campaign for Sunderland.
Goals from Jack Colback and Fabio Borini – neither of whom Poyet can now call upon after leaving the club this summer – gave Sunderland a 2-0 win when the two sides last met in April.
But West Brom had won the four matches before that and have triumphed in their last five against Sunderland at The Hawthorns.