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Ross Stewart gives Sunderland narrow play-off advantage over Sheffield Wednesday

Ross Stewart celebrates scoring Sunderland’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday (Richard Sellers/PA)
Ross Stewart celebrates scoring Sunderland’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday (Richard Sellers/PA)

Ross Stewart’s 25th goal of the season handed Sunderland a lead to defend against Sheffield Wednesday in their quest for a place in the League One play-off final.

The forward’s strike in added time at the end of the first half secured a 1-0 semi-final, first-leg victory at the Stadium of Light to take into Monday’s return at Hillsborough.

Alex Neil’s men might have won more comfortably on the night had it not been for Owls keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell while they also hit the crossbar, and they still have work to do to make it to Wembley despite extending their unbeaten run to 14 games.

Sunderland started brightly in front of a crowd of 44,742 with Patrick Roberts testing Peacock-Farrell with a fourth-minute shot after latching on to Stewart’s knock-down and cutting inside.

Defender Danny Batth only just failed to make contact with Alex Pritchard’s near-post corner as Wednesday found themselves pinned back deep inside their own half in the early stages.

The Owls were making little impression as an attacking force, although Black Cats defender Bailey Wright had to make an important challenge to deny Lee Gregory a 21st-minute run at goal, and the striker headed straight at keeper Anthony Patterson from a challenging angle four minutes later.

Corry Evans screwed a left-foot shot well wide after Roberts and Stewart had linked well nine minutes before the break, but Patterson had to come from his line to collect Massimo Luongo’s driven cross ahead of Gregory after the midfielder had got in behind full-back Dennis Cirkin.

But it was Sunderland who took the lead in first-half stoppage time when Sam Hutchinson failed to deal with Cirkin’s ball over the top and Stewart raced away to score at the second attempt after Peacock-Farrell had blocked his initial effort.

Pritchard was unfortunate to see his curling 52nd-minute effort come back off the crossbar with Peacock-Farrell beaten, but the keeper did get his fingertips to the midfielder’s clipped shot three minutes later with the home side well on top.

Hutchinson had to block a goal-bound Roberts shot after he had carved his way into the penalty area, although Liam Palmer should have done better after being picked out at the far post by Luongo with 13 minutes remaining with the visitors enjoying their best spell of the game, although ultimately to no avail with Stewart very nearly making it 2-0 at the death.