Sunderland 1-0 Stoke City: Johnson goal enough to down 10-man Potters (video)

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An early goal from Adam Johnson combined with Steve N’Zonzi’s second half dismissal saw Sunderland claim their third win in six league games, a run that’s vaulted the Black Cats out of the bottom three for the first time this season. After their 1-0 victory over Stoke City at the Stadium of Light, the team’s first home win in two months, Gus Poyet’s team sit 17th, the team’s fifth win of the season continuing its revival its new boss.

For Stoke, a spirited effort to equalize while reduced to 10 could not overshadow a match where the Potters were largely ineffective. Over the game’s first 30 minutes, Stoke were in danger of being played off the pitch, and while a surge in play around halftime gave the visitors reason for hope, N’Zonzi’s early second half sending off proved too much to overcome.

A dominant start for Sundland paid off in the 16th minute when a shot from Fabio Borini was left in front of goal by Potters goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. Unable to do more with a relatively easy shot, Begovic left Johnson an easy finish, with the Black Cats winger taking one touch before tapping the opener in off the inside of the right post.

The score continues a resurgence that’s put Johnson in the discussion for a spot on England’s World Cup squad. What Roy Hodgson has to say about that prospect remains to be heard, but with five goals in his last four appearances, Johnson has become the biggest individual beneficiary of Poyet’s arrival – the hottest winger in the Premier League.

The Black Cats maintained their unfettered control through the half hour mark, though even after Stoke started to muster an attacking threat, the Potters were unable to create their own chances on Vito Mannone. The closest they came to equalizing saw Mannone drop a cross after a collision with teammate John O’Shea, with the Black Cats keeper forced to make a sprawling save when Peter Crouch beat him to the loose ball.

After a brief Stoke surge coming out of the dressing rooms, Sunderland resumed their controlling ways, play that eventually saw Stoke reduced to 10 men. Having picked up a yellow card in the first half, defensive midfielder Steve N’Zonzi was dismissed after bringing down Jozy Altidore. After the Sunderland forward got inside N’Zonzi on a ball played over the Potters defense, the French midfielder elected to take the American down rather than let him go in for a potentially game-sealing goal.

Predictably, 10-man Stoke were no more effective than the 11-man Potters. Within moments of N’Zonzi’s dismissal, Begovic was called on to make a point blank stop on Altidore, with a cross flashed across the face of goal minutes later giving Sunderland another chance to double their lead. Though they remained within striking distance,, Stoke showed little sign of being able to pull back their hosts.

Things changed over the match’s last quarter hour, with Stoke generating a number of half-changes on Mannone. Their closest try came in the 83rd minute when a cross from the right found Ryan Shawcross in the middle of the area. Though the arcing header hit the top of the crossbar, it never had a chance to beat Mannone, who would finish the match with five saves.

The final numbers hint at a close match, with the teams nearly matching each other in shots, shots on goal, and possession. In reality, Sunderland controlled the match throughout the night, and while Stoke made a push to steal a draw late, Begovic’s early error ended up deciding the match.

LINEUPS

Sunderland: Vito Mannone, Phil Bardsley (Ondrej Celustka 45′), Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Marcos Alonso, Ki Sung-Yueng, Jack Colback, Sebastian Larsson, Adam Johnson (Craig Gardner 87′), Fabio Borini, Jozy Altidore (Steven Fletcher 67′)

Goals: Johnson (16′)

Stoke City: Asmir Begovic, Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross, Marc Wilson, Erik Pieters, Peter Odemwingie (John Guidetti 90′), Steve N’Zonzi, Charlie Adam, Oussama Assaidi (Marko Arnautovic 72′), Peter Crouch (Jon Walters 65′)

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.