Sunderland take a one goal lead into the second leg of the playoffs at Hillsborough on Monday after beating Sheffield Wednesday 1–0 at the SOL.
A first half stoppage time goal from Ross Stewart was enough to split the sides in front of a 44k crowd but the lads missed a string of second half chances after dominating the majority of the game.
After the 1-0 win over Morecambe at the weekend secured Sunderland’s spot in the play-offs, Wearside has been counting down the days to tonight’s first leg semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday. A bumper crowd of more than 40k was expected at the SOL as well as an impressive flag display by The Spirit of 37.
On the injury front, Aiden McGeady, after being named on the bench on Saturday, was in contention to feature although there was less good news on Nathan Broadhead who limped off at Morecambe. In his pre-match press conference Alex Neil revealed that he would leave it to the last minute to decide on Broadhead, and suggested the visitors would do the same over their key midfielder Barry Bannan who was also doubtful.
Alex Neil made two changes from Saturday with Broadhead missing out all together replaced by Cirkin whilst Jack Clarke replaced Elliot Embleton. As expected Barry Bannan started for the visitors. After coming out to the sound of Republica and Ready to Go, the visitors got the game underway kicking towards the North Stand.
It was a scrappy opening couple of minutes before O’Nien was harshly penalised for what looked a great tackle down the left hand side. The visitors swung the free kick into the box but it went behind for a goal kick. A minute later the lads had their first effort on goal when Stewart teed up Roberts on the edge of the box but the keeper held his left footed volley.
After 10 minutes we forced a corner when Roberts’ cross from the right was cut out. Pritchard drove it in from the right but it was put behind for a corner from the other flank. Pritchard whipped that one in dangerously to the front post and Stewart got his head on it but it went behind for a goal kick.
Five minutes later we won a free kick on the left when Pritchard was hacked down but the Sheffield Wednesday player just got a talking to even though it looked a bad tackle. Pritchard’s cross from the free kick was headed clear before Evans’ follow up shot was blocked.
Sheffield got a foot hold into the game midway through the first half but didn’t really threaten, although this suited them as they seemed content to sit back. Meanwhile Sunderland struggled to break them down with balls over the top easily dealt with Stewart struggling up front on his own. After 35 minutes Evans fired a left footed shot wide from the edge of the box.
The lads made a breakthrough on the stroke of half time with Ross Stewart finding the back of the net. Sunderland ended the half on top with Sheffield having to defend well to deny Gooch and Clarke efforts.
In the first minute of first half injury time Stewart robbed Hutchinson of the ball and surged into the box. His first effort was saved by the keeper but he forced it in from a tight angle with his left foot to send the SOL wild. There was a bit of a break in play while a red flare was removed from the pitch before the half time whistle.
Neither side made a change at the break before the lads restarted the second half. Five minutes into the second half Sunderland went close to a second when Jack Clarke found Pritchard on the edge of the box. Pritchard curled a shot towards the top right hand corner which crashed off the cross bar. Sunderland missed a flurry of chances to double their lead after a good spell of pressure.
First Roberts and Pritchard combined again before Danny Batth headed into the path of Cirkin but he failed to keep his effort down and blazed over. A minute later Roberts did fantastic to cut inside from the right and waltz past a few players before his shot was deflected over for a corner. Five minutes later Roberts cut in from the right again but he blazed over.
At the other end for the final stages of the game Wednesday started turning the screw with Patterson having to claim a couple of corners before Clarke did well to block a shot from Palmer. Alex Neil then made a double change as Sunderland seemed to settle for the one goal lead with Embleton and Matete replacing Pritchard and Roberts.
The visitors forced a couple of corners but Sunderland defended well at the death before Ross Stewart had another great chance at the death. He hassled the visitors defence and latched onto a loose header from the keeper who had raced out of his box to clear the loose ball. However after a couple of touches Stewart dragged his shot wide.
Alex Neil made a final change at the death as Sunderland cleared their lines from a corner with Doyle replacing Clarke as the lads set up an agonisingly nervy clash on Monday.
Score – Sunderland 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0
ALS Man of the Match – Alex Pritchard