Football: Schwarz strike wings Owls

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The Independent Online
Sunderland 1

Schwarz 51

Sheffield Wednesday 0

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 41,132

THE NORTH-EAST has not been the best of places for Danny Wilson. On Sunderland's books as a schoolboy, he was deemed too small when it came to handing out apprenticeships. In 20 years of employment in the professional game, the one-time Roker reject has probably never felt as small as he did at Newcastle last Sunday as he watched his Sheffield Wednesday being knocked into the middle of the next week. Back in the region yesterday, Wilson saw a big improvement in his team - not quite big enough, though, to avoid an eighth defeat in nine Premiership games.

With just one change, Pavel Srnicek keeping goal in place of Kevin Pressman, Wilson's Wednesday were unrecognisable from the shadow of a side slaughtered 8-0 on Tyneside. For all of their improved endeavour, though, they remained a losing side. Stefan Schwarz's 51st-minute goal, his first since his pounds 4m summer move from Valencia, made it a momentous occasion for Sunderland, who won a third successive top-division match for the first time since 1983. For Wilson and Wednesday, though, when Danny Sonner's injury-time header crashed against Thomas Sorensen's crossbar it was just another point-less afternoon.

The Owls' plight, perched at the foot of the Premiership with just one point, speaks for itself. And it was no great surprise that their manager was in no mood to embellish upon it. Wilson departed without comment, leaving Peter Reid to speak on his behalf. "Danny's a fighter," the Sunderland manager said. "I thought his team did alright today. They certainly did better than they did last week."

That the locals were still basking in the rather different result their team enjoyed at Newcastle a month ago was evident from the centrefold in The Wearside Roar - a poster commemorating the Tyne-Wear derby victory, with a strap-line bastardised from the never-to-be-forgotten Norwegian television commentary: "Lord Westwood, Sir John Hall, Jackie Milburn, Tony Blair, Jimmy Nail, Lee Clark, Cardinal Basil Hume, Robson Green, Ant and Dec... your boys took one hell of a beating." Not quite the hell of a beating Danny's boys took on Tyneside, though.

Having pondered in the aftermath whether some of his players could "put their head on the pillow at night," Wilson was probably surprised to discover that Benny Carbone could actually keep down his bonce longer than the rest. The Italian, accused last week by Wednesday chairman Dave Richards of "killing the club," was confined to quarters, said to be suffering from 'flu. In his absence, it was Sunderland who were almost caught cold.

Twice in the opening minute Wednesday troubled Sorensen, Andy Booth forcing a diving save from the Danish goalkeeper and Danny Sonner firing inches over his goal. With Sonner and the Swede Niclas Alexandersson in energetic mood, Sunderland struggled to settle in midfield. As the half progressed, Nicky Summerbee became increasingly prominent wide on the right, but with Petter Rudi and Lee Briscoe deployed on double-marking duty, Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn did not enjoy their usual rich supply of crosses.

It may have been a moral victory for Wilson that his opposite number felt obliged to make a change for the second half but he was not wearing a winning smile when that change had an immediate effect. With virtually his first touch, Alex Rae, a half-time replacement for the Sunderland captain, Kevin Ball, launched a surging midfield run and fed the ball out to Summerbee, whose cross from wide on the right found its way into the back of the Wednesday net via Schwarz's left boot.

It was a fine finish by the Swede, a flashing low drive which sped past Srnicek from the left edge of the Wednesday penalty area. Strictly speaking, Schwarz is not allowed to go over the moon; his wife possesses two tickets for the first commercial trip into space, but his contract with Sunderland precludes him from making the trip while he is with the Wearside club. Sunderland's most expensive signing seemed pleased enough with himself, though - unlike Wilson, who, it might be said, looked far from Owl-like as he wondered how to retrieve another losing cause.

He could hardly have come closer to succeeding. Only Sorensen's cross- bar kept out the powerful header from Sonner. It left Wednesday without a goal in 517 minutes of Premiership play - and their manager suitably speechless.

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