Football: Bassett needs new challenge

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Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Sheffield United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

DAVE BASSETT appeared like he does in television interviews: his eyes glassy, his mouth tight, his words staccato with unease. He seemed like a conjuror whose best trick has been spotted by a minority of the audience and who fears the rest will cotton on quickly.

A week ago, in the aftermath of two sendings-off against Blackburn, he had refused to say anything. This time he spoke at length and revealed little more. You suspect he knows the escapology act his Sheffield United team have performed since 1990 has become old hat. The outline of the secret panel in the scenery is visible, the magician's hands have become too slow to deceive.

'After the first half,' he said unconvincingly, 'I was confident we could win. . . we made silly errors and were made to pay. . . we've just got to keep plugging away and hope the goals will come.'

Managers need successes to sustain them and Bassett has been fighting failure for too long. Players, too, get tired of 'we will fight them on the beaches' if that is all they ever get to hear and United's have been listening to Bassett's Churchillian brio for four seasons. Normally, by January, things are looking brighter at Bramall Lane, this time the prospects appear worse. In the past they had Brian Deane to score or make goals, now they have no one of his stature.

Saturday's game summed up their season. They were the better side for much of it but rarely looked capable of profiting from their possession. Once Andy Scott, among their best players, had failed to capitalise on Andy Pearce's weak back-header just before half-time, a Wednesday mistake seemed their only route to scoring. It arrived by way of consolation in the 87th minute when Pearce pushed Scott over and Dane Whitehouse converted the penalty. .

Wednesday, meanwhile, are oozing goals even on afternoons like this when, frankly, for the first 54 minutes they looked anything but the team with the best recent record in the Premiership.

Francis was about to enforce a change by bringing on Chris Bart- Williams when Wednesday's opener suddenly shot out from the mounting rubbish of poor passes and lack of imagination. Roland Nilsson shot from the edge of the area, Alan Kelly saved and Mark Bright side-footed in for his eighth goal in 10 games.

In the next 20 minutes Wednesday were outstanding, scoring twice more, through Pearce and Gordon Watson. They have lost only twice in 24 matches and their season is ripening promisingly.

For United only a fight against relegation beckons and on Saturday Bassett seemed weary of patching up a side of bargain buys against rivals who can spend more on one player than he can on a team. He looked in need of a fresh challenge.

Goals: Bright (58) 1-0; Pearce (61) 2-0; Watson (70) 3-0; Whitehouse pen (87) 3-1.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nilsson, Pearce, Walker, Coleman; Sinton (Bart-Williams 84), Palmer, Hyde, Jones; Bright, Watson. Substitutes not used: Jemson, Woods (gk).

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Bradshaw, Hoyland (Nilsen, 85), Tuttle, Beesley; Ward, Kamara, Hodges, Whitehouse; Scott, Flo. Substitutes not used: Cork, Bibo (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).