Sunderland 3 Stoke City 1 – Fletcher nets twice in first win

Connor Wickham scores Sunderland's opening goal against Stoke City.

Connor Wickham scores Sunderland's opening goal against Stoke City.

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STEVEN Fletcher ended a nine-month drought to secure Sunderland’s first Premier League victory of the campaign.

Fletcher’s brace, his first goals in the Premier League since December’s draw at Cardiff City, coupled with Connor Wickham’s maiden top flight goal of the campaign ended Sunderland’s wait to break their duck after a 3-1 victory against Stoke.

Wickham gave Sunderland an ideal start by heading home Fletcher’s fifth minute cross, but the Potters fought back when Charlie Adam fired through the legs of John O’Shea.

But Fletcher’s header gave Sunderland the half-time advantage and after a cagey second half when the Black Cats were happy to hit Stoke on the counter-attack, the Scottish international doubled his tally from Wickham’s superb run.

Gus Poyet made two surprise changes to his starting line-up, with ex-Manchester City pair Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson both relegated to the bench.

Jordi Gomez -making his first Premier League start for Sunderland - and Steven Fletcher replaced the pair, with the latter leading the line and Connor Wickham moving to the left flank.

Santiago Vergini was preferred to fit-again Wes Brown at centre-half, with the former Manchester United man among the substitutes.

There was no place on the bench for the injured Ricky Alvarez.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes made one change from the side which beat Newcastle, with Marko Arnautovic taking the place of the injured Mame Biram Diouf.

Sunderland got off to a dream start after breaking the deadlock within the opening five minutes, as Wickham netted his first Premier League goal of the campaign.

Fletcher collected Billy Jones’ throw-in and benefited from a fortuitous richochet to get to the right-hand by-line.

The Scottish by-line delivered a cross on a plate for Wickham, who headed home from five yards out.

Stoke had a chance to immediately level when Peter Crouch’s knocked-down Asmir Begovic’s hoof forwards into the path of Steven N’Zonzi.

The French midfielder had time to pick his spot from the edge of the area, but shot tamely straight into the arms of Vito Mannone.

Stoke did equalise in the 15th minute after the visitors took advantage of some poor Sunderland defending.

Victor Moses fed the ball into the path of Adam, who trotted into the area before blasting a shot through the legs of the back-tracking John O’Shea and into the far corner.

However, Stoke were not level for long, as Sunderland regained the advantage in the 23rd minute.

Seb Larsson took a left wing corner short to Gomez, whose cross found the head of Fletcher, who cushioned the ball into the far corner.

Mannone had to be alert in the 29th minute to tip Adam’s inswinging free-kick from the right over the top.

From Adam’s resulting corner, Ryan Shawcross headed just over the top at the far post.

Will Buckley almost inadvertantly doubled Sunderland’s advantage in the 38th minute when his cross from the right forced Begovic to back-track and tip it over the top from under his own bar.

Stoke went close in first half stoppage time when Crouch met Shawcross’ cross with a back-post volley, but it was blocked well by Mannone.

HALF-TIME Sunderland 2 Stoke 1

Both sides struggled to create anything in the opening 25 minutes of the second half, with Sunderland happy to sit deep and try to hit Stoke on the counter-attack.

Mannone had to be alert in the 73rd minute when Oussama Assaidi’s cross took an awkward deflection off Jones to send it goalwards, but the Sunderland keeper gathered cleanly.

Sunderland grabbed the crucial third goal with 11 minutes to go after a brilliant run on the counter-attack from Wickham.

The striker collected Patrick van Aanholt’s pass on the left flank, just inside his own half, and carried it all the way to the right-hand side of the Stoke six-yard box.

Wickham’s pull-back was missed by Rodwell, but Fletcher was there at the back post to bury it into the empty net.

FULL-TIME Sunderland 3 Stoke 1

SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Jones, O’Shea, Vergini, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Larsson (Rodwell 71), Gomez (Bridcutt 71), Buckley (Johnson 60), Wickham, Fletcher. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Brown, Altidore, Mavrias. Booked: Jones (64), van Aanholt (67), Fletcher (69)

STOKE: Begovic, Bardsley, Wilson, Shawcross, Muniesa, Whelan (Bojan 70), N’Zonzi, Adam, Moses (Assaidi 18), Arnautovic, Crouch (Walters 78). Subs not used: Sorensen, Pieters, Huth, Ireland. Booked: Muniesa (27), Assaidi (63), Bardsley (66), Bojan (90)

Attendance: 42,713

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