|Mac's deflection is
a Wembley winner
by Phil Duffell
Alan McLoughlin left this morning bound for the World Cup finals in Italy, but not before his parting shot put Swindon Town in Division One for the first time in their history.
Unlucky Sunderland skipper Gary Bennett got the vital touch on what technically is an own goal, but it was McLoughlin's industry which created the only goal of the game and he will surely claim it.
At the end of a pulsating performance, the only mystery was that Town had not added to that first-half strike and converted their superiority into more goals.
On another day Swindon's 54-goal partnership of Steve White and Duncan Shearer would have had a hatful, but when the final whistle blew the Town were on the way up and it mattered not how they had won or by what margin.
Yet the early indications suggested it might be a torrid time for Swindon as Sunderland made the brighter start.
For a moment it looked as though the thunderous ovation which greeted the two teams had affected some of the Town players as they struggled to get into the game.
An Eric Gates cross was just too high for Marco Gabbiadini as he ghosted in at the far post, and minutes later the ex-Ipswich striker had a chance himself but could not get a clear strike at goal.
Gabbiadini then showed his pace as he raced down the right, but Colin Calderwood got a foot in at the right moment to divert the striker's shot into the side-netting.
Swindon's samba-style soccer finally swung into action and for the rest of the half Sunderland were made to look a very ordinary side.
John Kay seemed to have Ross MacLaren's long ball covered, but a slip nearly proved fatal as White stole in only to fire over the top in the seventh minute.
As Town slipped into top gear MacLaren won a crucial tackle and the ball went via McLoughlin to Shearer. His cushioned header was met first-time by White on the volley and only a flying save by keeper Tony Norman denied him a glorious goal.
But worse was to come for White after 19 minutes when he intercepted a poor backpass, but after beating Norman he could only watch as his shot rolled agonisingly onto the far post.
Shearer tried to pounce on the rebound but was closed down, so another golden opportunity passed by.
It was siege warfare on the Sunderland goal, but with Norman performing heroics their defences would not give.
A scintillating burst by McLoughlin left two defenders in his wake as he made for the byline; Tom Jones homed in on his low cross but this time it was the goalkeeper's knees which prevented Town from opening their account.
A rare foray from the Rokerites ended with a superb dummy by Gabbiadini setting up Gates, but there was not sufficient power in his shot to trouble Fraser Digby.
Steve Foley was everywhere in midfield and midway through the first half he suddenly appeared in the opposition penalty area, but headed just too high.
By the 26th minute a goal had to come, and though there was a touch of fortune about it, there can be no denying Town deserved to take the lead on the run of play.
David Kerslake won the ball, and as it ran free to McLoughlin there seemed little danger.
But the midfielder with a scent for goal advanced a few yards before unleashing his shot. It may already have been goalbound, but a deflection off Bennett left Norman completely stranded as the ball looped over him into the net.
McLoughlin was swamped and the Town fans went into raptures.
"I was surprised no-one was on me, but they gave me quite a bit of room in the first half. I took the ball on a fraction and just concentrated on hitting it cleanly," he said afterwards.
"It took a slight deflection off Bennett and seemed to take an eternity to go in the net, but after that all I remember was Ross MacLaren jumping on me."
Town could have killed off the game before half-time, but White and Jones were again thwarted by Norman and a McLoughlin curler went inches wide.
There was only one team in it and Sunderland must have been glad to make it back into the dressing rooms only one goal in arrears.
The North-East side came out determined to make a contest of it, but once more it was Swindon who carved out the chances.
Shearer latched on to a long through ball and shrugged aside the challenge of Paul Bracewell, but having done the difficult bit he dragged his shot wide.
Sunderland flattered to deceive, but their hopes took a shattering blow when a collision between Digby and Gabbiadini left their leading scorer limping heavily.
Gary Owers broke forward for Sunderland but first MacLaren and then Jon Gittens denied him a clear sight of goal.
A second goal would have put the issue beyond doubt, but try as they might the Town could not find the finishing touch.
White had a double effort blocked by the keeper and Bennett before the Sunderland skipper finally cleared from Foley.
Sunderland manager Denis Smith introduced both his substitutes in a last-gasp attempt to rescue something from a dismal display, yet they were still unable to stem the tide. And it required a fingertip save by Norman - Sunderland's only outstanding player - to prevent Shearer clinching promotion in style.
Instead Town had to endure an agonising three minutes of injury time before referee John Martin ended the 109-year wait and Swindon finally made it to the First Division.
Sunderland: Norman, Kay, Agboola, Bennett, MacPhail, Owers, Bracewell, Armstrong, Gates (Hauser 72), Gabbiaidini, Pascoe (Atkinson 69).
Swindon: Digby, Kerslake, Bodin, McLoughlin, Calderwood, Gittens, Jones, Shearer, White, MacLaren, Foley. Subs not used: Hockaday, Simpson.
Referee: John Martin (Alton, Hants).