Sunderland 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday: Ross Stewart gives Black Cats narrow play-off lead

Sunderland 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday: Ross Stewart gives Black Cats narrow play-off lead

Ross Stewart’s 25th goal of the season could be one of the most precious

Ross Stewart’s goal gave Sunderland a narrow win over Sheffield Wednesday in the first leg of the League One play-off semi-final.

Stewart robbed Sam Hutchinson and kept his cool to score the key goal just before half-time, poking the ball in from a tight angle on the rebound.

Alex Pritchard came closest to adding to the lead, when his curling effort smacked the Wednesday crossbar.

The Owls made the hosts work in the final 20 minutes, but could not score.

Stewart dragged a shot wide with just a minute to go, having almost capitalised on an error by visiting keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Wednesday will be at home for the second leg, which takes place on Monday, with kick-off at 19:45 BST.

Wycombe, who are 2-0 up over MK Dons in the other semi, play their second leg at Stadium:MK on Sunday.

Regular season games between the pair had produced convincing home victories; 5-0 to Sunderland and 3-0 to Wednesday in return, but with so much at stake there was to be no blow-out.

These two heavyweights find themselves stuck in the third tier with just one route left to escape, via the play-offs, and there was plenty of anticipation, anxiety and expectation around the Stadium of Light on and off the pitch.

That tension was tangible with 44,742 in the stands – a record English Football League play-off attendance at any level – although the home side eased some nerves once Stewart struck at the end of a cagey opening half.

Pritchard was the pivot on which most of the Wearsiders’ best work materialised, dropping deep to link midfield and attack, while Patrick Roberts, Jack Clarke and Lynden Gooch provided width to keep the game stretched.

In the absence of the in-form Nathan Broadhead, Stewart carried the main threat and his goal was a perfect reward for his graft up top.

However, with a second leg at an equally febrile Hillsborough still to come, the Scot’s late miss and a glut of a spurned chances from Dennis Cirkin and Roberts midway through the second half might prove costly.

With a solid shape, and with Sunderland enjoying most of the possession after a frenetic start, it seemed as though Darren Moore’s Wednesday might have set up to come away without defeat rather than chase a lead.

Stewart’s goal changed that plan and forced them to attack more readily, but their chief creator Barry Bannan was anonymous for large parts as Wednesday failed to bring him into play. When he did touch the ball, he was immediately smothered by Sunderland markers.

As the game wore on, a growing nervousness around the ground saw Sunderland retreat deeper, and finally Wednesday did release the shackles, but that crucial goal evaded them.

Sunderland boss Alex Neil:

“All we’ve done tonight is give ourselves an advantage – but we need to make that count.

“The only disappointment from our point of view was probably the fact that we didn’t add to the score-line.

“Particularly from half-time to about 75 minutes, we probably had two or three glorious chances to double the score-line, and it certainly wouldn’t have been any more than we deserved at that point.”

Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore told BBC Radio Sheffield:

“We knew it was going to be a tough game. The disappointing things for me about the game were: did we use the ball as well as we could? But also at the same time give Sunderland credit because they didn’t allow us to us it.

“They put a lot of energy into the game, they worked and pressed us and used the ball really, really well, so they played well.

“It’s a difficult place to come. It’s not easy here in front of a full house. The game lived up to the expectations, we had to stay dogged.

“We knew if we conceded, I said to them at half-time, we had to not concede again, do our jobs and make sure we stay in the game. It panned out that way.”

Line-ups

Sunderland

Formation 3-4-1-2

  • 20Patterson
  • 26Wright
  • 5Batth
  • 17Cirkin
  • 11Gooch
  • 4Evans
  • 13O’NienBooked at 63mins
  • 25ClarkeSubstituted forDoyleat 90+3′minutes
  • 77RobertsSubstituted forEmbletonat 81′minutes
  • 21PritchardSubstituted forMateteat 80′minutes
  • 14Stewart

Substitutes

  • 6Doyle
  • 8Embleton
  • 24Neil
  • 27Matete
  • 28McGeady
  • 32Hume
  • 39Hoffmann

Sheff Wed

Formation 3-4-1-2

  • 1Peacock-Farrell
  • 38Storey
  • 16Dean
  • 5Hutchinson
  • 2Palmer
  • 14ByersSubstituted forDele-Bashiruat 88′minutes
  • 21LuongoBooked at 52mins
  • 18Johnson
  • 10Bannan
  • 24BerahinoSubstituted forWindassat 56′minutes
  • 9Gregory

Substitutes

  • 11Windass
  • 13Paterson
  • 17Dele-Bashiru
  • 22Dunkley
  • 28Wildsmith
  • 32Hunt
  • 41Mendez-Laing

Referee:
Matt Donohue

Attendance:
44,742

Live Text