Sunderland go top after thumping Sheffield Wednesday 5-0

‘We’re top of the league, we’re top of the league’.

Over 30,000 were singing in unison and it would only get better from here.

It was 2-0 and at the point, their side had not even played all that well.

But some impressive, tenacious defending and some ruthless finishing had created a 2-0 lead and a platform to produce more excellent attacking football.

Ross Stewart celebrates his perfect hat-trick at the Stadium of Light

A perfect hat-trick from Ross Stewart, a first goal in red-and-white for Callum Doyle and a first senior goal in two years for Benji Kimpioka secured a 5-0 win that means the Black Cats will end the year top of the League One table.

Both Rotherham United and Wigan Athletic have the games in hand to overturn the deficit but you couldn’t begrudge the enthusiasm for the home side as they took their recent form to another level.

After an extended lay-off due to a COVID-19 outbreak, it was actually Sheffield Wednesday that started the better.

Sunderland struggled to really get their passing game going, some loose balls allowing the visitors some time and space early on. They carved open a half chance seven minutes in after good play to work it out right, a low cross backheeled first time by Lee Gregory but straight at Thorben Hoffmann.

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When the opener came, such was its sudden nature that if felt like the Stadium of Light needed a second to process it before breaking into delirium.

It was superb from Leon Dajaku, opening up the pitch with a tremendous through ball just inside his own half. The offside call was marginal, but Stewart had arced his run and the flag straight down. The finish was excellent, on his weaker foot and past Peacock-Farrell.

Though Sheffield Wednesday were not creating major chances, it was not as if the floodgates opened immediately.

A sliced clearance from Lynden Gooch in the channel allowed Lewis Wing a volley from inside the box, which Hoffmann did very well to save. The second stop from Gregory was absolutely outstanding and worthy of note because at that stage, the German was not to know that the flag would be raised for offside.

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Sunderland were not fluent, but Stewart’s relentless running in behind a back three that was so often disjointed always threatened.

He went close not long before his second, again springing clear and seeing his shot blocked from close range and a narrow angle.

The next time he was in, the finish was even better than the first.

It was all thanks to Alex Pritchard, who spotted a loose pass from Hunt and pounced. Driving at goal, he produced the perfect through ball as Stewart galloped over his shoulder. Peacock-Farrell was too far across his goal, and the Scot fired into the far corner with his first touch.

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The visitors were stunned, only two minutes earlier producing their best chance yet when Hunt had burst inside Gooch, gathering a diagonal ball and driving a dangerous effort at Hoffmann from just inside the box.

The Stadium of Light was rocking now and Sunderland were finding their groove.

Dajaku did well to keep a loose ball alive down the right, his low cross only just turned over the bar by a Sheffield Wednesday defender. Pritchard fired a good corner to the back post, where Flanagan rose to head across goal. At the back post was Doyle, Peacock-Farrell unable to prevent his header crossing the line.

It could have been before the break, the Owls goalkeeper denying Embleton with a stunning save before only just been able to clear a dangerous inswinging Pritchard corner on his own goalline.

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Sunderland had not been at their absolute best, but they had defended impressively against a powerful front line and at the other end Stewart’s running had been utterly relentless.

The Owls started the second half understandably brightly, but Sunderland quickly began to impose themselves and went close to a fourth when Gooch stood a dangerous cross up the back post, Stewart’s header kept out impressively by Peacock-Farrell from close range.

It was so close to a perfect hat-trick, but the Scot wouldn’t have to wait long to secure it.

This time it was an excellent cross from the right, Bailey Wright curling a tremendous ball to the back post and this time there was nothing the visiting goalkeeper could do, helpless as the first-time header flew past him.

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Wednesday were now struggling to make any inroads, the effects of their recent COVID issues becoming increasingly clear as gaps appeared all over the pitch towards the last 20 minutes.

They did close when substitute Corbeanu curled an effort just wide of the far post, a reminder of his threat and the surprise that he had not started the given, given the way he had carved the Black Cats open in the return fixture.

Within minutes though it would be five.

By now Dajaku was rampant down the right, and this time sprung a wonderful low cross in from the right. It was just beyond Stewart but found substitute Kimpioka, who nonchalantly took one touch before firing through the legs of Peacock-Farrell.

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The Swedish striker almost had another before the end, Peacock-Farrell this time making a strong save as the 21-year-old tried to repeat the trick from moments earlier.

Embleton would go close to getting a goal of his own with a firm half-volley in stoppage time, as Sunderland ended the game totally dominant.

Sunderland XI: Hoffmann; Wright, Flanagan, Doyle, Gooch; Evans, Neil (Kimpioka, 70); Dajaku (Alves, 80), Pritchard (Cirkin, 62), Embleton; Stewart

Subs: Burge, Hume, Harris, Younger

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Sheff Wed XI: Peacock-Farrell; Palmer, Dunkley (Brennan, 28), Johnson; Hunt, Wing, Dele-Bashiru (Corbeanu, 59), Bannan, Mendez-Laing; Paterson, Gregory (Adeniran, 75)

Subs: Wildsmith, Shodipo, Berahino, Sow

Bookings: Neil, 23 Bannan, 67 Embleton, 67

Attendance: 34,652