Football: Carbone makes absence fonder

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday 0 Tottenham Hotspur 0

PAOLO DI CANIO has not had many words of praise since he proved the power of shove but perhaps he deserves some. If nothing else his absence has transformed Benito Carbone from a butterfly who fluttered on the edges to a player through whom a game can flow.

In a match that was so poor you could half close your eyes and imagine you were at Goodison, Carbone was the one source of delight, easily eclipsing everyone else on the pitch.

A theory had evolved which stated Carbone and Di Canio made a team too lightweight if they played together and, as the latter is the prolific scorer, the former often found himself on the bench.

So much so it was open knowledge Wednesday would have accepted offers in the summer for the 28-year-old Italian they paid pounds 3m to Internazionale in 1996. Except no one appeared particularly interested, even at cut-price.

You can rest assured there would be interest if he was available now as he is playing as well as anyone in the Premiership. With Di Canio AWOL he has his platform now and he is commanding it.

Clever, quick and visually aware it seemed faintly ridiculous we were watching the player of the month in this game and it was not him. David Ginola? Carbone comfortably put him in the shade.

"You saw his full repertoire," Danny Wilson, his manager, said. "He's got great twists and turns and marvellous vision. There were two players in form today, Beni and Ginola, and he outshone him. That's the ability he's got. He's playing very well at the moment."

He is, and thank goodness because without him Saturday's game would have been a wasteland. Di Canio claims to be depressed and you can see why if the prospect of returning to Sheffield from Italy is to witness days like this.

Wednesday tried but the chances kept falling to the wrong people. Or perhaps that should be person, because Dejan Stefanovic had two free headers and an ample opportunity on the left of the area that a striker would probably have buried. As he is a centre-back playing in midfield the outcome was predictable.

Tottenham had Steffen Iversen's header saved on the line by Emerson Thome after 52 minutes but that apart they were as pallid as their first-choice shirts. Les Ferdinand (knee) and Darren Anderton (calf) were off within half an hour, which did not help, but with Ginola starved of possession you could understand why Spurs have yet to win away in the Premiership under George Graham.

Ginola had a penalty claim denied and so did Carbone but neither was wholly persuasive and the net result was tedium. Even the high priest of solidity was not satisfied. "I don't want clean sheets playing like that," Graham said. "I want to attack more, we're an attacking team.

"In some games you know after 20 minutes it's not happening and that's what happened today. In those circumstances you have to make sure you don't lose. Spurs can dig in now."

The impression was that the sides were shovelling to prepare for better things to come: the FA Cup for Wednesday, two cups for Tottenham.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Srnicek; Atherton, Thome, Walker, Hinchcliffe; Alexandersson, Jonk, Stefanovic, Rudi; Humphreys, Carbone. Substitutes not used: Newsome, Sanetti, Briscoe, Sonner, Pressman (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Young, Campbell, Sinton; Anderton (Clemence, 26), Freund, Nielsen, Ginola (Edinburgh, 67); Iversen, Ferdinand (Armstrong, 10). Substitutes not used: Calderwood, Baardsen (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday Carbone; Tottenham Hotspur Freund, Nielsen.

Man of the match: Carbone.

Attendance: 28,204.