Ross Stewart’s goal gave Sunderland a narrow win over Sheffield Wednesday in the first leg of the League One play-off semi-final.
Stewart robbed Sam Hutchinson and kept his cool to score the key goal just before half-time, poking the ball in from a tight angle on the rebound.
Alex Pritchard came closest to adding to the lead, when his curling effort smacked the Wednesday crossbar.
The Owls made the hosts work in the final 20 minutes, but could not score.
Stewart dragged a shot wide with just a minute to go, having almost capitalised on an error by visiting keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
Wednesday will be at home for the second leg, which takes place on Monday, with kick-off at 19:45 BST.
Wycombe, who are 2-0 up over MK Dons in the other semi, play their second leg at Stadium:MK on Sunday.
These two heavyweights find themselves stuck in the third tier with just one route left to escape, via the play-offs, and there was plenty of anticipation, anxiety and expectation around the Stadium of Light on and off the pitch.
That tension was tangible with 45,000-plus in the stands – a record English Football League play-off attendance at any level – although the home side eased some nerves once Stewart struck at the end of a cagey opening half.
Pritchard was the pivot on which most of the Wearsiders’ best work materialised, dropping deep to link midfield and attack, while Patrick Roberts, Jack Clarke and Lynden Gooch provided width to keep the game stretched.
However, with a second leg at an equally febrile Hillsborough still to come, Stewart’s late miss and a glut of a missed chances from Dennis Cirkin and Roberts midway through the second half might prove costly.
With a solid shape, and with Sunderland enjoying most of the possession after a frenetic start, it seemed as though Darren Moore’s Wednesday might have set up to come away without defeat rather than chase a lead.
Stewart’s goal changed that plan and forced them to attack more readily, but their chief creator Barry Bannan was anonymous for large parts as Wednesday failed to bring him into play. When he did touch the ball, he was immediately smothered by Sunderland markers.
As the game wore on, a growing nervousness around the ground saw Sunderland retreat deeper, and finally Wednesday did release the shackles, but that crucial goal evaded them.
- 13O’NienBooked at 63mins
- 25ClarkeSubstituted forDoyleat 90+3′minutes
- 77RobertsSubstituted forEmbletonat 81′minutes
- 21PritchardSubstituted forMateteat 80′minutes
- 14ByersSubstituted forDele-Bashiruat 88′minutes
- 21LuongoBooked at 52mins
- 24BerahinoSubstituted forWindassat 56′minutes
Match ends, Sunderland 1, Sheffield Wednesday 0.
Second Half ends, Sunderland 1, Sheffield Wednesday 0.
Corry Evans (Sunderland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Liam Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday).
Substitution, Sunderland. Callum Doyle replaces Jack Clarke.
Corner, Sheffield Wednesday. Conceded by Danny Batth.
Attempt blocked. Josh Windass (Sheffield Wednesday) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Massimo Luongo.
Foul by Luke O’Nien (Sunderland).
Fisayo Dele-Bashiru (Sheffield Wednesday) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Ross Stewart (Sunderland) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left.
Substitution, Sheffield Wednesday. Fisayo Dele-Bashiru replaces George Byers.
Corner, Sunderland. Conceded by Harlee Dean.
Attempt blocked. Liam Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Marvin Johnson with a cross.
Substitution, Sunderland. Elliot Embleton replaces Patrick Roberts.
Substitution, Sunderland. Jay Matete replaces Alex Pritchard.
Lynden Gooch (Sunderland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Marvin Johnson (Sheffield Wednesday).
Attempt missed. Liam Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday) header from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Massimo Luongo with a cross.
Corner, Sheffield Wednesday. Conceded by Ross Stewart.
Corner, Sheffield Wednesday. Conceded by Lynden Gooch.