Football: Carbone's class is too hot to handle

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Thome 16, Carbone 57 Stockport County 0 Half-time: 1-0 Attendance:20,984
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IF THE first half of Wednesday's season was dogged by the antics of one Italian striker, Paolo di Canio, the second half is beginning to shape up nicely thanks to the performances of another, Benito Carbone. As expected, they breezed past a hapless Stockport into the fifth round of the FA Cup, and have now rattled up 10 goals since the turn of the year, while conceding only one.

Carbone's emergence from the shadows of the exiled Di Canio has been the principal factor in their revival, and he singlehandedly showed Stockport the exit from this competition, laying on the first goal in a well-worked set piece and sealing a comfortable victory in a spectacular moment of opportunism.

It took 16 minutes of Wednesday pressure to prise open a Stockport defence whose five at the back was an indication of their approach.

Then Wednesday won a corner on the right and it was played short to Carbone, who turned cleverly on the goal-line before crossing for the defender Emerson Thome to head in.

Wednesday had ample opportunity to put their names into the draw for the next round but Stockport kept their hopes alive with a mixture of luck and brave defending until early in the second half when a sublime piece of individual skill from the Italian underlined the difference in class that had been apparent all afternoon.

Picking up the ball 35 yards out, he released a viciously dipping shot over the head of the Stockport goalkeeper Carlo Nash, who was so taken aback by the audacity of it that his first reaction was to pick the ball out of the net.

The Wednesday manager, Danny Wilson, said: "Carbone in positive mood is a handful for any defence. He will try anything and it is coming off."

The Stockport manager, Gary Megson, had plenty of reasons to be aware of the size of the task that faced his First Division side. Both he and his father Dom, who now scouts for the Edgeley Park club, spent most of their playing careers at Hillsborough, he still lives in Sheffield and his son is a keen Wednesday supporter.

But the dominant emotion in the Megson household will be relief that they got away so lightly, particularly when Paul Cook was sent off.

Wednesday's Swedish midfielder Niclas Alexandersson missed two good chances, stabbing one wide of the post and allowing Nash to block another. Carbone had an effort kicked off the line and sent another dipper just over the bar, and Jonk squandered the easiest chance of the afternoon.

Stockport's long-ball game never looked like troubling Wednesday's back four, with the substitute Jim Gannon coming closest with a first-half header and Brett Angell being denied by a tackle from Peter Atherton.

Megson said afterwards: "We only let Carbone go twice and it resulted in two goals. That is why you pay that sort of money for players of his ability. Every time I see Wednesday, Carbone is the catalyst when they have a good performance."

And with the Italian in this sort of form, the feeling is growing in Sheffield that this could be the year Wednesday return to Wembley for the first time since 1993.