Blackburn are outwitted by Waddle's guile

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Blackburn Rovers 1

This was always going to be the toughest test of Ray Harford's first week in the front office. The job may have come with the keys to a proven model with plenty of power under the bonnet, but many believe that the second-hand job David Pleat found waiting for him at Hillsborough only needs a polish to make it as good as new.

The elbow grease has certainly been applied, for last night Wednesday outshone Blackburn and inflicted on them the first defeat of their championship defence.

Pleat's arrival at Hillsborough was never likely to result in much change to the close-passing style Wednesday developed under Ron Atkinson and Trevor Francis, particularly as the increasing mileage on old legs like Des Walker's and Chris Waddle's preclude the sort of never-say-die effort Harford can expect from his crop of current internationals.

But tightness at the back, patience going forward and the occasional flash of vintage brilliance from Waddle were enough to nullify all Blackburn's energies and effort. Walker and Julian Watts allowed Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton only a single sight of goal, which Shearer gratefully accepted, but Wednesday stuck to their game plan and Mark Pembridge snatched a deserved winner seven minutes from time. Blackburn's woes were compounded when Mark Atkins was sent off in injury time for dissent.

Wedesday served notice as early as the fourth minute that they intended to take the game to the champions when Pembridge hit the bar. Dan Petrescu was winning enough ball to allow Waddle to practise his old tricks, and after 18 minutes he succeeded in outwitting the entire Blackburn defence. Colin Hendry brought down David Hirst in midfield and, from John Sheridan's free-kick, Waddle curled in a low, dipping cross that evaded both his own attackers and Rovers' static defenders, who look as shocked as their bright pink shirts.

Wednesday were so tight at the back that Blackburn were limited to snap- shots from outside the penalty area, Kevin Pressman turning efforts from Matt Holmes and Tim Sherwood over the bar. Petrescu had two good chances to put Wednesday further ahead, but allowed Ian Pearce to whip the ball off his toe, and then miscued with his knee.

One of Shearer's many strengths is that he does not miss gifts like that, and the chance to unwrap one of his own finally came his way on the hour when Sherwood's lay-off allowed him to slide home an angled side-foot equaliser.

It was Wednesday's turn to soak up the pressure, but they found their second wind, and Pembridge, who had been blowing more strongly all the time, completed a memorable Hillsborough debut. He picked up a clearance half-way inside the Rovers half, found Ian Nolan on the left, and when the cross came back he had made enough ground to be able to tap the ball past Tim Flowers from two yards.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Atherton, Watts, Walker, Nolan ; Petrescu, Sheridan, Waddle (Sinton, 68), Pembridge; Hirst, Bright. Substitutes not used: Degryse, Hyde.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Pearce, Hendry, Le Saux ; Ripley (Atkins, 85), Sherwood, Batty, Holmes; Shearer, Sutton (Newell, 85). Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).