Sunderland 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0: Advantage Cats in League One play-off semi-final

Sunderland will take a narrow advantage to Hillsborough on Monday night after Ross Stewart’s goal separated the sides in a tight contest at the Stadium of Light.

By Phil Smith
Friday, 6th May 2022, 10:31 pm

The biggest attendance in Football League play-off history watched the two sides play out the kind of even affair that had been predicted from the moment they were paired.

Stewart’s goal on the brink of half time opened up the contest and though the Black Cats surged at the beginning of the second, they had to withstand from late pressure from the visitors to maintain their lead.

Amid a fevered atmosphere there was a flurry of initial activity, both teams going direct in a scrappy start. The visitors had the first chance when Lee Gregory turned a Barry Bannan free kick wide at the back post, before Stewart flicked on a long ball and Roberts drew a save from Peacock-Farrell as he cut in from the right flank.

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Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday played out a tense first leg

That may have hinted at an open contest, but it proved to be anything but as the game quickly settled. Sheffield Wednesday weren’t pressing the home defence, happy to sit deep and frustrate the home crowd.

Their plan was to seize on any slack passes and break from their own half, which almost yielded joy through the rapid Liam palmer. Sunderland snuffed out a couple of crosses with no real danger, and were dominating possession without really opening up their opponent.

Unsurprisingly, both sides seemed to be playing it relatively safe on the ball.

Sunderland were beginning to build a bit of pressure towards the end of the half, Peacock-Farrell having to turn a deflected cross fro Lynden Gooch over the bar. The following corner looked like it might drop kindly for Stewart and then Clarke, but on both occasions the visitors were able to clear.

The Owls looked to have seen out the half and indeed were on top when the hosts struck, the visitors caught out of shape from their own set play when Cirkin played an excellent first-time pass into the channel. Hutchinson dithered and hovering on his shoulder, Stewart struck. The Scot broke through and though Peacock-Farrell blocked the initial effort, he was able to turn the follow-up home and send the crowd into delirium.

Unsurprisingly Wednesday stepped up the intensity significantly at the start of the second half but Sunderland were inches away from a second when Clarke teed up Pritchard, the forward striking the bar with Peacock-Farrell well beaten.

The game had opened up and the hosts were dominant, Peacock-Farrell saving from Pritchard before Cirkin headed just over the bar. Roberts then drove from the edge of his own half into the box, only to see his effort deflected over the bar.

Wednesday switches shape and it got them a foothold when they looked to be on the ropes, Dean getting a half chance at the back post but heading straight at Patterson. The flow of the game had changed quickly, the more physical Josh Windass causing problems and pushing Sunderland back.

Sunderland survived a wave of dangerous attacks before almost snatching a second when Stewart pounced an another defensive lapse, but this time he could only fire wide.

Sunderland XI: Patterson; Wright, Batth, Cirkin; Gooch, Evans, O’Nien, Pritchard (Matete, 80), Roberts (Embleton, 81); Clarke (Doyle, 90), Stewart

Subs: Hoffmann, Hume, McGeady, Neil

Sheffield Wednesday XI: Peacock-Farrell; Hutchinson, Storey, Dean; Palmer, Luongo, Byers (Dele-Bashiru, 88), Bannan, Johnson; Berahino (Windass, 55) , Gregory

Subs: Wildsmith, Hunt, Dunkley, Mendez-Laing, Paterson

Bookings: Luongo, 52 O’Nien, 62

Attendance: 44,472