Football: Stefanovic sets back Sunderland

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Sunderland 1
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If it had not been for fog at Gatwick Airport, Dejan Stefanovic would have been in Belgrade last night. Too late to play for Yugoslavia against Russia, he instead pushed Sunderland deeper into the murk of the relegation zone. Even the weather is ganging up on Wearside.

His plane might have been grounded but Stefanovic elevated Wednesday into fifth place in the Premiership with only his second goal for the club. With it he burst the Sunderland bubble that had floated into Hillsborough on the wind of a win over Manchester United.

Apart from that famous triumph, Sunderland have now lost their last five matches and are hurtling towards the bottom three with disconcerting haste. Their disappointment would have been compounded last night by their having taken the lead through Kevin Ball.

It had been, in the words of the Hillsborough manager, David Pleat, "Sunday, bloody Sunday" when his side lost to Wimbledon in the FA Cup at the weekend, and for the first 40 minutes it looked as though it might be Wednesday, bloody Wednesday. The crowd was flat, so were the team.

To describe the home team in this initial period as pedestrian would be to flatter them, and with things so easy at the back Sunderland were able to go forward with confidence. Indeed, had Craig Russell kept a volley down from Ball's hooked pass after 20 minutes they would have taken the lead earlier than they did.

Their disappointment lasted only seven minutes. A corner from the left was cleared fairly comfortably but as Wednesday relaxed, Sunderland crossed again and Ball hit a low shot through a forest of players after Russell's effort had been blocked.

At this stage Lionel Perez's principal problem was finding things to do to stop getting bored but after 42 minutes Wednesday struck. Mark Pembridge's corner was knocked back into the area by Andy Booth and Hirst, turning sharply, beat the Sunderland keeper and two defenders on the line.

Wednesday, shaken out of their stupor, were a different side in the second half, pinning Sunderland on to the ropes and pummelling away. Hirst was close with a half-volley from 30 yards that skimmed the post and Benito Carbone had Perez scampering across his line to claw away an exquisite chip.

The flow was with Wednesday and they broke through after 62 minutes. Pembridge played a short corner on the right and was allowed a ridiculous amount of time to advance across the area and hit a low shot that Perez did well to save low to his right. The ball rebounded to Stefanovic, who lashed it into the net.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nolan, Walker, Stefanovic, Briscoe; Whittingham, Carbone (Humphreys, 89), Atherton, Pembridge; Booth, Hirst. Substitutes not used: Oakes, Collins, Trustfull, Clarke (gk).

Sunderland (4-4-2): Perez; Hall, Ord, Melville, Kubicki; Kelly, Bracewell, Ball, Gray (Howey, 81); Russell, Bridges (Stewart, 76). Substitutes not used: Williams, Eriksson, Preece (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).