Sunderland 1 Sheffield Wed 0: Keane homes in on victory as Cats purr past Owls

Charismatic manager drives on Sunderland as the pressure mounts on Sturrock
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The Independent Online

Once upon a time, in Sunderland's days at Roker Park, Paul Sturrock's mother worked as the tea lady in the boardroom. Up the road at the Stadium of Light yesterday the Sheffield Wednesday manager was in need of a little PG Tips and sympathy as his Owls continued their descent in the Championship table, dropping to the rock-bottom perch.

Wednesday have not won on Wearside since 23 August 1969, a month after Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind at the Sea of Tranquility. A draw yesterday would have been a significant small step for Sturrock's side, but after holding Sunderland for two minutes short of an hour they fell victim to a slick attack and a smart finish by Grant Leadbitter - the 20-year-old midfielder's first goal for his hometown team.

It gave Roy Keane a first too - his maiden home victory as Sunderland manager, at the expense of the club who sent him a rejection letter when he wrote asking for a trial as a teen-ager. It was a fully merited success, though without the injured Graham Kavanagh, Sunderland were never fully in control.

Still, it was a third win in five matches for Keane. With attendance levels up to 36,764, Sunderland and their manager are clearly going places, though on this evidence by evolution rather than revolution. "Exactly what I wanted," was the Keane appraisal, alluding to last weekend's 3-1 reverse at Ipswich. "We couldn't wait for this game to come round."

As for Sturrock, he will have to wait for 14 October to come round and the visit of Barnsley to get this latest setback out of his system. "It's disappointing," he said, "but I shook every player's hand at the end of the game because the only thing I didn't get out of them was blood."

These are troubling times for Sturrock, though, with Wednesday suffering from points failure and the Hillsborough hordes showing signs of losing faith. Not that he has been working himself into the kind of state that led him to collapse in the St Johnstone dugout, suffering from hyperventilation, in his early days in the management game.

Five games into his managerial career, Keane still favours a calm stroll to pitch-side and that familiar piercing glare, accompanied by a sharp word. There were a few concerned forays to the touchline before his side got into their stride yesterday - not least when a slip by Kenny Cunningham required Leadbitter to come to the rescue with Drew Talbot poised to pounce from close range.

It was some subtle, prompting link play by Dwight Yorke that finally got Sunderland ticking, but they spurned a string of chances, Tobias Hysen heading wide from close range and Daryl Murphy striking the crossbar with a cross-cum-shot.

At the other end, save for Cunningham's early stumble, Sunderland's defence remained untroubled as half-time approached. It was all Wednesday could do to stem the flow of attacks, and four minutes before the break they had reason to be grateful when a Murphy shot whistled wide of Brad Jones' goal. There was another sigh of relief in first-half injury time when Yorke swept a low shot wide with the goal at his mercy.

It was a glaring miss by the Trinidad and Tobago captain, who had been teed up perfectly by Hysen, but Sunderland could not have come any closer to edging in front two minutes into the second half. Dean Whitehead advanced from deep and struck a right-foot drive that smacked off the base of the left upright. The chances kept coming, Stanislav Varga planting a header over the bar from a right-wing corner, but just when Sunderland looked like being frustrated, they broke the deadlock with a peach of a goal. Nyron Nosworthy fed the ball out to Liam Lawrence on the right, and his first-time ball into the box was met with a swift side-footed finish from Leadbitter.

The young midfielder, making his first start under Keane as a stand-in for Kavanagh, took his chance well, which is more than can be said of Marcus Tudgay and Burton O'Brien. They were both thwarted by Ben Alnwick as the Sunderland goalkeeper earned his corn in Wednesday's late flurry.

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