Steven Fletcher scores two on Sunderland debut to deny Swansea City

For the romantics among us, the script was there, but Sunderland had not read it and 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. They have lacked a goalscorer since the sale of Darren Bent, which undermined Steve Bruce's management, and without one they fell away badly towards the end of last season, winning just one of their last 10 games to finish a disappointing 13th. Nobody scored more than Nicklas Bendtner's eight league goals – 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 expertly curling a left-footed shot across Michel Vorm and just inside the far post.

A slow burner eventually caught fire when the first half went into protracted injury time. The equaliser arrived when Nathan Dyer's short chip played in Wayne Routledge, who scored with an emphatic rising drive from eight yards. Routledge is the player most obviously at risk from the signing of Pablo Hernández from Valencia on Friday, and his goal will have been all the more welcome.

Sunderland regained the lead with the stopwatch 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 maladroit attempts at a clearance.

The Swans threatened when Simon Mignolet saved, but could not hold Jonathan de Guzmán's free-kick and Danny Graham, following in, had his shot cleared off the line by Carlos Cuéllar. 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. Michael Laudrup, the Swansea manager, said: "We've played four games now, and for me this was the most important. We're not a top-three team, but we've shown that we can play well, and with character, when circumstances are against us ."

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