Sheffield Wednesday v Everton


FA Carling Premiership 96/97 - Game 22
Saturday 11 January 1997
Hillsborough, Sheffield

Result: Sheffield Wednesday (1) 2 - Everton (0) 1
Pembridge(22) Hirst(50); Ferguson (63)

Sheffield Wednesday: Pressman, Atherton, Nolan, Pembridge, Walker, Whittingham, Booth (Hirst, 45), Hyde, Nicol, Stefanovic, Humphreys.
Subs Not Used: Blinker, Clarke, Collins, Trustfull. Booked: Hyde.

Everton: Southall, Barrett, Watson, Phelan (45 Branch), Stuart, Rideout (50 Grant), Ferguson, Speed, Barmby, Kanchelskis, Dunne (62 Unsworth).
Booked: Watson.
Subs Not Used: Gerrard, Limpar. Unavailable: Hinchcliffe, Parkinson, O'Connor, Ebbrell, Short (all injured).

Ref: Alan Wilkie Att: 24,175 League Position: 9th Results and League Table

Previous League Match: Everton v Blackburn Rovers 
Previous Match (FA Cup): Everton v Swindon Town -- Next Match: Arsenal v Everton

Match Summary

SoccerNet (Adrian Curtis, Mail on Sunday): Wednesday goalkeeper Kevin Pressman picked the perfect moment to enhance his hopes of being named in Glenn Hoddle's next England squad. Pressman was in brilliant form, as David Pleat's side stretched their unbeaten sequence to 13 games. Watched by the FA's new technical director Howard Wilkinson, Pressman ensured that Wednesday collected all three points with a series of super saves.

A goal in each half from Mark Pembridge and David Hirst put Wednesday in the driving seat, but it still needed the inspirational Pressman to prevent the injury-hit Merseysiders from snatching a point. The Wednesday keeper made a remarkable first-half save to spare the blushes of team-mate Guy Whittingham, who almost turned the ball into his own net, and when the going got tough in the second half Pressman pulled off another world-class stop to deny Gary Speed.

While Pressman's contribution must surely have been noted in Wilkinson's book, boss Pleat refused to single him out. He said: 'I was pleased with everything. It was an excellent start, and we showed great resilience when Everton came at us.

'I thought we played very well in the first half, but Everton threw everything at us and were tremendous.'

But Pleat did manage to save a word or two for hero Pressman. He added: 'I thought he was a spectator until he made a special save from Whittingham.'

Pembridge should have put the home side ahead as early as the fourth minute, but his rasping 20-yard volley was well saved by his Welsh international team-mate Neville Southall. But he finally managed to beat Southall in the 22nd minute with a 20-yard free kick which Pembridge drilled through the Everton wall and beyond the stranded keeper.

Eight minutes later, though, they needed Pressman for the first time, when he made a stunning save from his own team-mate Whittingham. Duncan Ferguson got free on the right, and his low cross eluded everyone except the back-tracking Whittingham, who could do nothing but watch the ball cannon off his toe towards a corner of the net. But Pressman saved his potential embarrassment by leaping to his right and turning the ball away for a corner.

Within five minutes of the restart, Wednesday looked to have made the game safe. Hirst, on as a half-time replacement for injured Andy Booth, robbed the unfortunate youngster Richard Dunne, played a one-two with Ritchie Humphreys before firing his first goal of the season from close range.

That seemed to stun Everton into life at last. Two minutes later, the giant Scot Ferguson sent a powerful header crashing off the crossbar before he finally managed to get on the score sheet 12 minutes later. Michael Branch sent over a pinpoint cross and Ferguson managed to direct his header past Pressman from six yards.

Three minutes later, Everton were denied an equaliser by that man Pressman, when Speed's powerful header was tipped over the bar in acrobatic fashion by the Wednesday hero. Pressman then went on to deny Ferguson twice more, as Everton's hopes of saving themselves from a fourth consecutive defeat evaporated.

Why wait 'til you're two down?

Guy McEvoy: The sparse crowd by Premiership standards and the passion (or lack of it!) on display in the first half from both sides gave this match all the feel of one of those 'nothing to play for' mid-table clashes you wouldn't normally expect until at least early March. Yes, it got better at the end, but by then it was frustratingly all too late.

First Half

It took just minutes to realise that this would be no repeat of last year's walkover at Hillsborough. No sooner had the game kicked off than we were on our feet applauding Neville for stopping the unstoppable.

The Blues starting line-up consisted of the same players that so easily brushed aside Swindon, the exception being Branch making way for the re-eligible Phelan. The big change then was in the formation with Everton switching back to the more familiar four-man defence.

It was an uncomfortable looking unit on the day, nothing would quite drop for the men in banana shirts. If a player passed, it would be intercepted; if he took a man on, he would be tackled. There comes a point when bad luck must instead be put down to bad play and Everton were hopeless enough in that first half to suggest it was a line we'd crossed. We were grateful that Wednesday didn't look like they really wanted to take advantage of our apathy but a string of defensive sloppiness from Everton's full-backs made sure that they always looked the likelier team to score.

The goal that did come was as characterless as the half in general. A free kick outside the box, the Everton wall lined up, the ball was hit in the general direction of the wall, it went through the wall, and drove the blues fans up the wall, Southall having been too off-footed to get to the unspectacular hoof that found its way through the mysterious gap.

And that was it really -- out best effort having been own-goal attempt by them. A dull, uninspirational forty-five minutes which I'll probably remember more for the tedious novelty of the several thousand inflatable sausages that a national newspaper had dished out amongst the crowd than anything that happened on the pitch.

Second Half

Joe clearly recognised that, for whatever reason, the side had lost the balance it had in the Swindon match. The obvious remedy was to unfix the unbroken bit where he'd already tried to fix it (if you can follow that). So Phelan was removed for Branch after the break. Shortly after that Rideout, who had been so magnificent last week and so useless today, was swapped for Grant and the team looked momentarily like it regained its shape.

Regrettably though, we ended up deeper in it when Dunne made his first mistake of the game and was beaten by a Hirst who fed Humphreys on the left wing. The youngster's second mistake was not to track back quick enough with Hirst who just kippered him -- meaning he was three yards in free space, and enough to knock in the return pass. You learn the hard way in the big league.

This second goal kick-started the Blues. Suddenly there was intelligent play, space appeared, and purposeful runs were made. The question that begs itself is of course; Why wait 'til you're two down?

Grant had obviously been tasked with not straying far from the centre circle -- just picking up the ball and trying to release a man in space as quickly as possible. To an extent it worked and the shots, at last, started to come our way. The best move was when Branch sprinted free of his marker pointing into space, Barrett feeding him and Branch turning and chipping a cross that Duncan headed onto the bar.

It was through this same Branch-Ferguson combination that we chalked the goal back and Branchy should take most credit. Speed was on the ball outside of the area on the left. In front of him was Branch who was practically being hugged by his marker. He didn't look a passing option given the close attention but you could see him yell for the ball at his feet, Speed obliged. Branch simply dropped his shoulder and his marker was lost. Michael lurched away the extra yard into enough space to cross, thank-you-very-much-indeed says Duncan as he gives us all that bit of hope by sticking it in.

The last twenty minutes was thoroughly entertaining stuff, this being borne out by the fact that I finally stopped noticing the ice-cold wind. The Evertonians raised their voices with the rally, and it oh so nearly came off. Another Duncan header an inch or so wide, and a rising, bullet velocity header by Speed that I'll never understand how it was kept out. To be fair to Wednesday, as Everton's game was raised they managed to hit us fast on the counter a couple of times.

Nevertheless, Wednesday won this game primarily because we gave them a 45 minute head start. The second half Everton performance was credible and positive, but the first half was simply dire. A football game is 90 minutes long. I pay for 90 minutes. I want 90 minutes from the team.

Four league losses in the trot, eight points from relegation and ten from the European places with no games in hand. Downer!

Individual Performances

Another long journey home (ain't they always long when you've lost?). The journey was broken up a bit though by a massive punch up on the train by some Man City fans and Evertonians. Full credit to the ticket inspector who broke it up, by simply asking two men wrestling on the floor and trading blows; "Tickets please.". All very surreal.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

Robbie "The Red Newt" Newton: Was that a dismal performance or what? [Probably not half as bad as you think - Ed] Everton beaten 2-1 by a less than mediocre team [err, a team that is in form, unbeaten in 13 games, the only team in the top half of the league to win today? - Ed]. It doesn't say a lot for Everton. [err, we are still trying to recover from our dreadful injuries, bad luck, and loss of form - Ed]. We're now three points behind Wednesday, having played one game more.

That is a sad state of affairs. It can not be down to injuries [err, Why not? we still have five prefered-choice players out contention -- that's half the team! - Ed] -- it's down to not having players good enough to do the job.

First Half

Everton started nervously as Wednesday surged forward. Our goal didn't come under any real pressure until Southall palmed a header high into the air, before getting up and grabbing it. Unfortunately, the Wednesday goal didn't come under any pressure either as we looked toothless of from the outset.

Then on 22 minutes, Wednesday got a disputed free-kick on the edge of the Everton area. It was right on the edge, so we put all 10 outfield players in a wall -- and what happens? A bloody goal right through it. Hyde struck the ball tamely and it squirmed through the middle of the wall and went underneath Southall. No blame can be attached to him - one would expect a wall to act as a wall -- he wasn't expecting the shot to come through everyone and din't have time to react.

The next piece of action came when Ian Nolan almost scored an own goal. Pressman parried it out and there was no Everton player following in. Then Ferguson received the ball out wide on the left and crossed into the .. Kop. Chants of "Eee Aww" were more than deserved. He was playing like a donkey. His flick-ons were poor and his general all-round play was not up to scratch. But the same could be said about all but three Everton players in the first half -- the three being Phelan (who wasn't playing well, but better than most), Dunne and Watson.

Second Half

The second half was a little better, but still poor. Everton need a player -- or players -- who can pass the ball. Our travelling fans (about 3,000 of us) made plenty of effort to get behind the team. We started the half quite well, but didn't really threaten. Then a long ball was played in behind Dunne, he stretched to reach it with his head, did so, but it landed at the feet of Hyde who played in Humphries. His first touch let him down, but somehow, because our defence is so poor, he still managed to cross the ball and Hirst was there to put it away without conviction. His 101st goal for Wednesday -- his first since our 5-2 win at Hillsbrough last season.

Ten minutes past without any action. Then on 63 minutes a brilliant Branch cross was headed in by Ferguson. It wasn't a good header, but it'd do. [It looked darned good to me.  He chose his spot perfectly, placing rather than powereing the ball just inside the post - Ed] The gap wasn't so big anymore and there was light at the end of a dark tunnel. Everton rallied and Wednesday were on the back foot -- we should have equalised but such was our luck on the day it just wouldn't happen. [Oh, so there is such a thing as Luck, then, eh, Newt?]

Speed came closest with a towering header which missed by less than a whisker (honestly, it was soooooo close!), then Ferguson headed against the top of the bar, and then the same player headed just wide. Then a totally bizarre decision by Referee Alan Wilkie. Branch chased a through ball from Barmby, but Walker got there first and kneed it back to Pressman .. who picked it up. Wilkie waved play on, much to our disatisfaction. You won't see a clearer back pass all season, yet this sod of a ref saw it as unintentional, despite having one of the quickest players in the Premiership breathing down his neck!

Wednesday were playing on the break, and the holes they were finding in our defence were huge. By this time Unsworth had replaced Dunne, and he almost cost us a third goal. Poor control on his part gave the ball to the ever-active Hyde and he slid a ball through to Hirst who should have done better than his feeble shot into the side-netting.

Ten minutes remained but we were playing piss-poor. Clumsy players all over the show. The spirit and determination that was present when JR first took over have been totally eliminated in our failed quest for class. Oh, by this time Grant was on -- although you'd never have known it -- for Rideout. We lobbed a few balls in the box late on (we did that right throughout the game I may add) but nothing came of them.

So, another loss. We've now got a goal difference of -1, have lost 8 games and won 7, and our "football" is about as a attractive as a stoned Jimmy Nail. I don't like what Willie Donnachie appears to be teaching our players to do.

I read on the internet last night a match report on our game v Newcastle on the opening day of this season. It said that Everton are a "totally uninspiring long ball team with no flair" and I have to say I agree. I wish I didn't, but the fact of the matter is that it's true.

What makes things even more depressing is when on the coach back you hear on the radio that Middlesbrough are after Barcelona's international defender Miguel Nadal, Inter Milan's defender Festa (??) and we're after Carlton bloody Palmer, and Carl "Forest and Villa reject" Tiler. D'you see the difference? We're picking up everybody else's left-overs and other teams are picking up tasty appetisers. [Oh, and, er, Middlesbrough just dropped to the foot of the Premiership.  I wonder if there is a connection? - Ed].

Team Ratings

Robbie's rather negative ratings, tempered by more balanced views from EFC Mark (and his mark):

Doing things by halves

Dave Shepherd: Evertonians remembering last year's exhibition in the sunshine were instead treated to a rerun of a less happy recent visit to Owl-land when Mike Walker debuted Parkinson and Rowett. On that day, the first-half performance was awful, but the Blues showed some fight in the second half and got no just reward.

Team selection looked as if EFC operate an automatic winners-stay-in policy because, despite the availability of Unsworth, Dunne was given a second start. Also, Rideout was left in midfield. Phelan was in too, with Branch dropping to the bench.

First Half

The weakness of the formation was not immediately clear, because the Blues produced a repeat nightmare performance of shapeless, aimless sleepwalking... almost (but not quite) as bad as the Blackburn debacle. So many bad passes gave the ball away that the Weds could hardly help but do well.

Nevertheless, the home side looked baffled as to what to do with such generosity and possession time, and couldn't execute any of their attacks even with vast acres of space on the wings. Their two best chances came from mistakes by Phelan, but they couldn't put the ball away even then. It was heading for an inevitable and very dull 0-0.

In such games, going behind is very bad news because there is little chance of coming back. A challenge on the D-line by Dunne was maybe not poor or even unfair, but was foolish because refs usually don't see it that way.

The oldest trick in the book is to put a man in the wall and aim for him with the kick. You would have thought Everton were seeing it for the first time. They made no effort to cover or remove the man, and Southall flapped from a mile away as the ball gently sailed in. Worse yet, a side-on replay shows the whole Everton wall jumping in the air and the ball going under it. Soft? I'd prefer Sandy Brown to have scored it.

Everton really hadn't got a clue, and it was very clear that the wise Owls had figured out that this year it might be a good idea to mark Kanchelskis out, and did so like angry wasps. This unfortunately meant there were no crosses from the right, which was a pity, because there were almost none from the left either -- Phelan preferring to attack the box like AK instead of crossing when he could. Tellingly, the only good chance of the half came from a cross from the left, but ironically it was a home player on the end of it, and current luck dictated that Pressman saved as if he was expecting it.

Second Half

JR threw on Branch and moved Speed back to left wingback, pulling Phelan. Things improved a little bit, but only 5 minutes in, Wednesday (this year preferring to dress like Birmingham in the 70s instead of the usual deck-chairs) got another gift and managed to convert it. A long punt was covered by Dunne, but half-time sub, Hirst, simply shoulder-barged the chunky kid away and raced clear, passing to Humphreys first and netting the return pass as Dunne had jogged sheepishly along behind him instead of charging hopefully.

The game lost, JR didn't need to worry anymore about the one-man-moonlighting defensive midfield, pulling Rideout off for Grant. Rideout had done the job against Swindon, but was badly exposed as he ventured towards the centre circle: he couldn't distribute, and couldn't tackle back.

This time the yellow away shirts responded with a swift attack and, from a corner, a good Dunc header hit the bar and went behind. Things were getting so irritating, they were almost half as irritating as the Penistone Rd End fans, who seems to have been bodysnatched and replaced by sad continentals complete with trumpet, drum, and wordless song with all the pop-appeal of an Austrian oompah band. If the Kaiser's troops had played this in the trenches, we'd have surrendered within a week.

JR didn't take long to play his third and last card by putting Unsworth on for Dunne, and instantly Sheffield's progress was cut to zero -- bar breakaways -- as EFC pressed forward.

Even better, it sparked a gear shift and an instant reward as our darling home-grown striker-turned attacking midfielder Twiggy Branch bought himself a yard at the left dead corner of the box and put a perfect ball onto Dunc's head for a goal. So Simple! And half an hour left for more!

Even better, Wednesday's shoulders slumped, waiting for the equaliser. Ten draws take their toll such that the expectation of another must seem fated. Everton obliged with a history of attacks and corners which could only be faulted by the way they all seemed to fly straight at Pressman. It's easier to score if you have a double threat. The best chance was a blinding header from Speed near the penalty spot, but it produced a blinding save. But it was Ferguson who was hungry, and he was genuinely unlucky not to get any more goals from his 3-4 other attempts.

As time ran out though, the feeling of the usual excellent northern away support was more of bemusement at the two-faced performance than depression about the tail-spin results or our genial leader's inability to produce 'squad' results.



Ref: Alan Wilkie (Chester-le-Street). A number of poor decisions made his presence on the field unwelcome.

Pleat's men still enjoying the high life

Deryk Brown, The Sunday Times: ONWARDS, ever onwards, march Sheffield Wednesday. They have gone 13 matches unbeaten ­ 12 of them in the Premier League ­ since mid-October, and yesterday were the only side in the top nine to win. They merited this victory, even though Everton finally stirred from their lethargy in the second half, when Duncan Ferguson pulled back a goal.

Only 24,175 souls turned up, which suggests that south Yorkshire is finding it hard to believe in the season's most unlikely success story. Among the crowd was Howard Wilkinson, the FA technical director, spying for Glenn Hoddle. If his target was Nick Barmby, he will have been disappointed because Barmby was poor. But Wilkinson will have noted two names for the future, both teenage forwards. One is Ritchie Humphreys, the other Michael Branch, a Scouser, whose determination once he arrived for the second half, put some senior Evertonians to shame.

Humphreys, with his raw enthusiasm, summed up this pragmatic, busy Wednesday. So did Mark Pembridge, the little midfielder, who found acres of space. Pembridge scored Wednesday's opener, shooting in via a defensive wall after he had won the free kick. That free kick seemed a harsh decision against Richard Dunne, a 17-year-old making his League debut. But why was Dunne starting the match, when David Unsworth was on the bench?

Strange, too, that Tony Grant, the man who did much to lift Everton, spent more than half the match as a substitute. And curious that, having spent £850,000 on Terry Phelan to shore up his defence, Joe Royle, the manager, should then send him for an early bath at half-time.

If Wednesday are upwardly mobile, Everton have stalled, losing four League matches on the trot. Perhaps they thought that Andrei Kanchelskis, who normally rips Wednesday to pieces, would win it for them. As things transpired, Neville Southall, at 38, still agile despite looking like the Michelin man, had to rescue Everton twice before Pembridge scored.

The visitors threatened to equalise in the first half only when Guy Whittingham shot straight towards his own goal. Wednesday made it 2-0 when David Hirst, another substitute, bundled poor Dunne off the ball and exchanged passes with Humphreys before scoring simply. Then Branch's measured cross gave Ferguson the sort of heading chance he does not miss. At last the real Everton stood up.

Pacy Wednesday keep Europe in sight

Dave Horridge, Electronic Telegraph: SHEFFIELD Wednesday were rewarded for their consistency with another victory that sustains their hopes of European football next season. This result stretched their unbeaten run to 13 matches and finally laid to rest the ghost of flying winger Andrei Kanchelskis.

Everton star Kanchelskis had haunted Wednesday by scoring five goals in their previous three meetings, including a hat-trick in Everton's 5-2 victory during the corresponding fixture last season. The credit for the Russian star's shackling should go to pacy full-back Ian Nolan and goalscorer Mark Pembridge, who not only tracked back to nullify Kanchelskis' menace but was also able to provide Wednesday's main threat in a dominant first half.

While Everton have had similar European aspirations this season, they must now dwell on ending a run of four successive defeats. Wednesday attacked Everton at a pace that had their defenders reeling and Neville Southall needed to produce two spectacular one-handed saves from Pembridge and Ritchie Humphreys while Guy Whittingham beat him with a header just over the bar.

The breakthrough came in the 21st minute when Pembridge found a gap in Everton's defensive wall with a 20-yard free-kick that beat the unsighted Southall.Pembridge had his Welsh international team-mate stranded again with a chip shot that drifted inches too high, while at the other end Kevin Pressman's only anxious moment was when Whittingham deflected a low cross just inside his own post and the goalkeeper made a superb reflex save to retain his team's lead.

David Hirst, who but for injuries seemed set for the type of career being enjoyed by Alan Shearer, has just recovered from a troublesome hamstring and came off the subs' bench for the second half with a reminder of his talent. After beating Richard Dunne in the air he swept the ball out to Humphreys on the left then casually swept home the low centre.

That was in the 50th minute and endorsed Wednesday's control, yet mysteriously did more for Everton, who suddenly revealed a confidence previously lacking and Duncan Ferguson headed them back into the game after 63 minutes.

The big striker forced Pressman to concede a corner, from which the goalkeeper made a stunning one-handed save from Gary Speed. And Ferguson was only inches away from a late equaliser with another header. Hirst missed two further opportunities to restore the comfortable platform as Everton pressed for an equaliser.

Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph

Royle's men lost in space

Dave Hadfield, The Independent on Sunday: There is talk of giving Kevin Keegan the freedom of Newcastle to brighten his retirement. Two Premiership sides awarded each other the freedom of Hillsborough yesterday and the wonder of it all was that a match that was free-flowing to a fault yielded only a modest three goals.

Wednesday were the FA Cup's top scorers last weekend with seven, but it is doubtful whether Grimsby could have given them as much latitude as Everton. Joe Royle, hindered by injuries, fielded a novel diamond formation which looked interesting in theory but which in practice consisted largely of extra space begging to be exploited.

Nobody did that with more relish than Mark Pembridge, who went close with two other efforts in the first half as well as putting his side ahead. There is no player in the division with a more determined shoot-on-sight philosophy than Pembridge, so when he was fouled on the edge of the penalty area by Richard Dunne there was never much doubt who would take the free kick. He blasted it through the wall and past Neville Southall.

It said everything for Wednesday's dominance that Kevin Pressman's one real save in the first half was from his own player, Guy Whittingham.

Even though Wednesday quickly went two up after the break, it was a different Everton in the second half. It was hardly a cliniclly taken Wednesday goal, Ritchie Humphries and the substitute, David Hirst, both doing their best not to score before Hirst finally stuck it away.

The introduction of Michael Branch did much to revive Everton. Duncan Ferguson had already hit the bar with one thunderous header before Branch's clever pull-back allowed him to stoop and nod past Pressman. A similar piece of work by the lively Branch gave Ferguson another chance, this time steered just wide, and Pressman struggled in the final minute to hold a ground shot from Andrei Kanchelskis.

It was Wednesday, though, who continued to carve out chances almost at will, Hirst and Pembridge both going close twice in the last 20 minutes. It was that sort of game; 6-5 would have been a truer reflection but, on a day when none of the teams above them won, Wednesday will happily settle for the best out of three.

Stubborn Owls sit on Branch

Alan Lyons, The Guardian: Sheffield Wednesday, a pre-season candidate for relegation, can feel happy in eighth place. Everton, who started with dreams of the championship, will feel less content with ninth. Wednesday have a tougher look about them these days. This hard-fought win took their run of Premiership games without defeat to 12, a run including draws with Manchester United at home, Tottenham away, Arsenal home and Chelsea away.

With his 3 million pound Italian Carbone injured and the Dutchman Blinker demoted to the bench, David Pleat put out a functional team good enough to exploit the frailities in Everton's three-man defence. They got the ball up to the two big strikers Humphreys and Booth -- the latter replaced by the equallly sizable Hirst for the second half -- and had Pembridge loitering with intent in the open spaces around the edge of the area.

The effectiveness of this pattern was seen aftr only five minutes when Booth challenged for a Nicol cross, the ball ran free and Pembridge's volley forced Southall into a fine save.

Everton problems, as explained by their manager Joe Royle, were a lack of fit defenders which forced him to play too many forwards. That went part way to explain the way Barrett, Watson and Dunne were stretched at the back with no helping hand from midfielders. Everton looked more balanced in the second half when Speed dropped to full-back for Phelan, Branch came on as a second front player, and Barmby moved into midfield, but by then Everton were chasing the game.

The threat of Pembridge had led to a goal in the 22nd minute, when he was fouled on the edge of the area and drilled a low free kick past Southall. Then after 50 minutes Everton fell for a sucker punch when a corner was cleared and Hirst, who showed what a good player he might have been if not sidelined so often by injury, outjumped Dunne to set Humphries on his way.

The young striker seemed to have wasted the chance, but with the Everton defence still well out of position, had ample time to readjust and push a simple pass across goal for Hirst to tap in. Branch, whose aggressiveness and control make him a fine prospect, put over a cross for Ferguson to pull back a goal and set up a finish in which Royle felt Everton could have equalised. A third Wednesday goal, however, always looked more likely.

Report Copyright The Guardian

Joker in the pack Pleat plays his winning hand

Pat Gibson, The Times: DAVID PLEAT could afford to be flippant. Thirteen games without defeat, 12 of them in the FA Carling Premiership, have put Sheffield Wednesday on course for a place in Europe next season and their manager could not resist his bit of fun.

"I was pleased with everything," Pleat said. "I thought it was an excellent game with a lot of good performances. We can all go home and sleep for another night. No pressure. And the Newcastle job, I have got to tell you about that. I have had a phone call . . ."

Joe Royle, his Everton counterpart, did not seem quite as relaxed. He had been on the radio in the morning, talking about the pressures of the manager's job. "If you win three games in a row, you're the best in the business," he said. "If you lose three in a row, it's a crisis and time to sack the manager."

It should not come to that at Goodison Park, even though Everton have now lost four league games in succession. There are mitigating circumstances, most significantly the injuries to Ebbrell, Parkinson and Short.

That still begs the question why it took Royle so long to get his best side on to the field. He had left Branch, his precocious striker, Grant, his most composed midfield player, and Unsworth, his defensive strong man, on the substitutes' bench and it was only after they were introduced, for Phelan, Rideout and Dunne respectively, that Everton came to life. By then, Wednesday were two goals ahead.

For all his flippancy on Saturday night, Pleat knows the pressure of managing a big club with great expectations but he has built a solid-looking side in which the know-how of Walker and Nicol, the leadership and organisational skills of Atherton and the flair of Pembridge and Humphreys are neatly incorporated.

They had already tested Southall's enduring reflexes by the time Pembridge put them ahead in the 22nd minute. Dunne, only 17 and making his full league debut, brought down Pembridge on the edge of the penalty area and the little Welshman got to his feet to drive the free kick beyond Southall's grasp.

Dunne was also involved in Wednesday's second goal in the fiftieth minute. Hirst, who had come on for the second half for the injured Booth, proved too strong for the the youngster as they contested a high ball. His pass released Humphreys, who then left Hirst with the simple task of scoring for the first time since last April.

Only now did Everton start to play and Ferguson pulled a goal back with a neat header from Branch's cross in the 63rd minute.

Report Copyright The Times

The Last Word

Joe Royle (courtesy of PA News): Everton boss Joe Royle blamed their midfield injury crisis -- both Joe Parkinson and John Ebbrell are long-term casualties, while Tony Grant returned from a spell on the sidelines as a second half substitute for Paul Rideout.

"Our problem is a question of balance," moaned Royle. "We have too many forward players on the pitch but I thought we were a bit unfortunate in the second half not to have got a point.

"We have lost too many midfield players at the moment. We have had defensive and midfield problems and hence a side which was in the top five defences is leaking too many goals at the moment." But Royle was delighted with the performance of towering striker Ferguson, who enjoyed a colossal battle with former England defender Des Walker and could easily have brought Everton level during the second half.

"Duncan's getting fitter and had five to six efforts on goal today. That is what he is capable of and we need more of that from him he is a hell of a threat."

Results and League Table

Sunday, 12 January 1997

Allen(44)                      Solskjaer(23) Beckham(76)

Saturday, 11 January 1997

ASTON VILLA             2-2    NEWCASTLE UNITED          39,339  
Yorke(39) Milosevic(52)        Shearer(16) Clark(21)
BLACKBURN ROVERS        4-0    COVENTRY CITY             24,055  
Sutton(17,34) Gallacher(30) Donis(76)
LEEDS UNITED            3-0    LEICESTER CITY            29,486  
Bowyer(40) Rush(45,69)
LIVERPOOL               0-0    WEST HAM UNITED           40,102  

MIDDLESBROUGH           0-1    SOUTHAMPTON               29,509  
NOTTINGHAM FOREST       2-0    CHELSEA                   28,358  
Pearce(40) Bart-Williams(53)
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY     2-1    EVERTON                   24,175  
Pembridge(22) Hirst(50)        Ferguson(63)
SUNDERLAND              1-0    ARSENAL                   21,154  
WIMBLEDON               1-1    DERBY COUNTY              11,467  
Gayle(60)                      Willems(84)

Table after 12 January 1997

Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD  Pts
Liverpool                    23   12    7    4   38   20   18   43
Manchester United            22   11    8    3   44   26   18   41
Arsenal                      22   11    7    4   39   21   18   40
Newcastle United             22   11    5    6   40   24   16   38
Wimbledon                    20   11    5    4   34   24   10   38
Aston Villa                  22   10    6    6   31   21   10   36
Chelsea                      22    9    8    5   33   31    2   35
Sheffield Wednesday          21    7   10    4   23   23    0   31
Everton                      22    7    7    8   30   31   -1   28
Tottenham Hotspur            21    8    4    9   23   28   -5   28
Sunderland                   22    7    6    9   22   30   -8   27
Leeds United                 22    7    4   11   19   27   -8   25
Derby County                 21    5    9    7   21   26   -5   24
Blackburn Rovers             21    5    8    8   23   22    1   23
Coventry City                22    5    8    9   22   31   -9   23
Leicester City               21    6    5   10   20   30  -10   23
West Ham United              21    5    7    9   18   26   -8   22
Nottingham Forest            22    4    8   10   21   36  -15   20
Southampton                  21    5    4   12   29   37   -8   19
Middlesbrough                22    4    6   12   25   41  -16   18

This League Table Update provided by Lawrence "Leagueman" Breakey

This Match Report Compilation was prepared by Michael Kenrick for Marko Poutiainen. 12 Jan 1997.