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Fletcher foils Swans' ascent

For the romantics among us, the script was there, but Sunderland had not read it and their record signing, Steven Fletcher, stole the show, with two goals that prevented Swansea from going top of the Premier League 10 years after they had been bottom of the fourth tier.

Fletcher, for whom Martin O'Neill paid Wolves £12m, celebrated his league debut by scoring twice in the first half on a disappointing day for the Welsh club. Not only did they drop two points, they lost left-back Neil Taylor with a fractured ankle and had another defender, Chico Flores, sent off after 70 minutes for kicking Louis Saha in the back of the head.

Swansea were the better team, even with 10 men, but their pressure counted for nought on a day when rank bad defending let them down. From the Sunderland perspective, it was encouraging stuff. Nobody scored more than Nicklas Bendtner's eight league goals last season -- a situation O'Neill may well have remedied with the acquisition of Fletcher.

The Welsh club suffered their first blow after 15 minutes when Taylor was carried off, having damaged an ankle in in a scrap with Craig Gardner. Sunderland took the lead after 40 minutes, when an underhit backpass from Ashley Williams let in Fletcher, who ran on unchallenged before curling a left-footed shot across Michel Vorm and inside the far post.

The equaliser arrived in first-half injury-time when Nathan Dyer's short chip played in Wayne Routledge, who scored with an emphatic rising drive from eight yards.

Sunderland regained the lead on 50 minutes, Fletcher nudging home his second from point-blank range after Seb Larsson's free-kick had reached him at the far post via a couple of attempted clearances.

The Swans threatened when Simon Mignolet saved, but could not hold Jonathan de Guzman's free-kick and Danny Graham, following in, had his shot cleared off the line by Carlos Cuellar. Chico, too was desperately close with a bouncing header from six yards. A goal was on its way, and midway through the second half Michu's towering header did handsome justice to a long penetrative diagonal ball from De Guzman.

The balance then changed in another sense when Chico was dismissed, inevitably, for going into a touchline challenge on Saha with a boot raised. The 10 men pressed for the winner, but it was not their day.

"We've played four games now, and for me this was the most important," said Swansea manager Michael Laudrup. "We're not a top-three team, but we've shown that we can play well, and with character, when circumstances are against us."


Sunday Indo Sport