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Ross Stewart's goal gives Sunderland crucial play-off advantage against Sheffield Wednesday

By James Hunter

Ross Stewart's 25th goal of the season means it is advantage Sunderland heading into the second leg of their play-off semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday. The Black Cats head to Hillsborough on Monday with a slender single-goal lead following the first leg at the Stadium of Light, with the game on Wearside watched by a crowd of more than 44,700 - a record attendance for a play-off semi-final.

Stewart forced Wednesday defender Sam Hutchinson into a mistake in injury-time at the end of the first period, and ruthlessly punished the error. Sunderland could have added further goals in the second period as Alex Pritchard hit the woodwork, and Dennis Cirkin headed an excellent chance over the bar.

But one goal gives Alex Neil's men the edge, although their job is far from done and they will have a battle on their hands in South Yorkshire if they are to book a place in the Wembley final against either Wycombe or MK Dons. Neil made two changes to the side that won at Morecambe on the final day of the regular season.

LIVE BLOG: Sunderland vs Sheffield Wednesday action & analysis

On-loan Everton striker Nathan Broadhead missed out through injury and was replaced by Jack Clarke, while defender Cirkin returned from a groin injury and took the place of Elliot Embleton, which meant Luke O'Nien moved into midfield. Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore made one change, in his case to the side that won 4-1 at home to Portsmouth last weekend.

He brought in Harlee Dean in place of Jack Hunt. The first half was a tight affair, with both sides aware of what was at stake.

There was an early chance for the visitors when Lee Gregory fired wide, after a free-kick was headed back across goal. But Sunderland dominated both possession and territory in the opening 45 minutes and, while chances were few and far between, they had the better of them.

Stewart headed down for Patrick Roberts, and he cut infield from the right before hitting a shot straight at Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Skipper Corry Evans fired wide from range, and Danny Batth headed wide following a corner.

But the Black Cats went in front in stoppage time at the end of the first half. Sunderland broke quickly out of defence, with Alex Pritchard heading up into the air on the edge of his own penalty area and Cirkin sending the ball into the left-hand channel for Stewart to chase.

Hutchinson got there first, but he dithered too long and Stewart robbed him, racing through into the area where Peacock-Farrell blocked his initial shot, but the Scot was there to follow up and score from close range. Sunderland started the second half at a high tempo, looking for the second goal that would have given them breathing space.

Pritchard almost provided it five minutes after the restart, but his curling shot from the edge of the box came back off the bar after beating Peacock-Farrell. Pritchard then saw a shot touched over the bar by the keeper.

And Cirkin should have scored when Wright nodded the ball to him inside the box, but the youngster sent his header over the bar from eight yards out. At the other end, Dean saw a shot saved by Anthony Patterson while Liam Palmer sent an effort wide.

In the latter stages, Wednesday ramped up the pressure but Sunderland stood firm to keep a clean sheet and take that precious single-goal lead into the second leg.

How they lined up

Sunderland: Patterson, Gooch, Wright, Batth, Cirkin, O'Nien, Evans, Roberts (Embleton 81), Pritchard (Matete 80), Clarke (Doyle 90+3), Stewart. Subs not used: Hoffmann, Neil, McGeady, Hume

Booked: O'Nien

Sheffield Wednesday: Peacock-Farrell, Storey, Dean, Hutchinson, Palmer, Byers (Dele-Bashiru 88), Luongo, Johnson, Bannan, Berahino (Windass 56), Gregory. Subs not used: Wildsmith, Hunt, Dunkley, Mendez-Laing, Paterson

Booked: Luongo

Referee: Matt Donohue (Manchester)

Attendance: 44,742

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Dive Deeper:
Sunderland vs Sheffield Wednesday team news as Nathan Broadhead misses out but Dennis Cirkin returns
Alex Neil has named his Black Cats starting XI for tonight's League One play-off semi-final first leg against Darren Moore's…
Sunderland fans react to 'brilliant' first leg play-off win against Sheffield Wednesday
Ross Stewart's first-half goal gave the Black Cats a vital advantage heading into Monday night's second leg
Sunderland 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday player ratings as Alex Pritchard is torturer-in-chief
Ross Stewart scored the only goal of the game as Sunderland earned a hard-fought play-off semi-final first leg win against…
Sunderland have one foot in the play-off final - but Sheffield Wednesday are still alive
Sunderland hold a deserved advantage going into the semi-final second leg, but they still have to finish the job
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Sunderland’s Stewart taps in for playoff lead against Sheffield Wednesday
Ross Stewart scored shortly before half-time in the League One playoff semi-final first leg to give Sunderland a 1-0 lead…
Sheffield Wednesday vs Sunderland team news as Alex Neil breaks with his usual pattern
Alex Neil and Darren Moore have revealed their starting XIs for tonight's League One play-off semi-final second-leg at Hillsborough
Get all your news in one place