Trai Hume led Sunderland to a comeback win over Luton to ensure they have an invaluable lead to defend in the second leg of their Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final.
Hume’s 63rd-minute effort secured a 2–1 first-leg victory in a packed Stadium of Light after Manchester United loan midfielder Amad Diallo disallowed Elijah Adebayo’s first opening goal with a strike spectacular.
It was no more than what Tony Mowbray’s men deserved in a game for which they again lined up without a recognized centre-back, but which kept alive the hopes of a second consecutive promotion through the play-offs.
Luton, who finished 11 points better than the Black Cats at the end of the regular season, will however feel confident they can overcome the smaller deficit at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday night, although they will have to do so against opponents who have won 11. of their 23 meetings on the road.
The first blows were exchanged as Hatters leader Carlton Morris meekly made his way into the arms of Anthony Patterson before Jack Clarke fired into the side netting at the other end in an open start.
The visitors, who lost in the semi-finals 12 months ago, were lucky to escape unscathed when goalkeeper Ethan Horvath tapped Patrick Roberts’ curl attempt into the path of Joe Gelhardt, who couldn’t adjust his feet quickly enough to convert the ball. rebound.
The Hatters took advantage of the leak almost immediately.
Sunderland were unable to cope with an 11th-minute corner and, after Patterson bravely blocked Alfie Doughty’s shot at the far post, Adebayo pounced on the loose ball to score.
The momentum changed with the goal and Adebayo could have doubled his tally with 24 minutes remaining had Hume not gotten in the way of his scoring effort, and Patterson had to be on the alert to catch Doughty’s near-post free-kick .
But Sunderland returned to the charge six minutes before half-time when, after Pelly Mpanzu was booked for a tough challenge on Roberts, Alex Pritchard sent the resulting free-kick to Amad, who fired an unstoppable shot past Horvath.
Gelhardt deflected Pritchard’s cross wide under pressure from Gabe Osho as the Black Cats resumed with determination, though the game became increasingly difficult with both teams guilty of losing possession on the cheap.
It was the home team that finally mustered quality to make the difference when Hume met Clarke’s cross on 63 minutes with a firm header and deflected the ball into the bottom corner to spark delirious celebrations among a crowd of 46,060.