Football: Cottee shows a zest for the fray

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Leicester City 1 Cottee 33 Half-time: 0- 1 Attendance: 33,513
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The Independent Online
IT SHOULD have been the day Hillsborough's prodigal son Paolo Di Canio returned to the fold at the end of his suspension for pushing over a referee but in the event Wednesday proved to be the pushovers and it was another thirtysomething whose comeback stole the show.

Tony Cottee's first-half strike from a tight angle after Andy Hinchcliffe's weak back-header had let him in was enough to give Leicester the points and leave Wednesday still searching for both their absentee striker and someone who can fill his boots.

Such is the Wednesday manager Danny Wilson's desperation to find a reliable replacement for his two mercurial but undisciplined Italians - the suspended Benito Carbone also missed his game - that he gave the 17-year-old Owen Morrison his debut as a second-half substitute, but the Irish teenager proved to be no more adept than the two strikers in the starting line- up, Andy Booth and Ritchie Humphreys, at finding a way past Leicester's well organised back four.

Wednesday played tidy possession football, but lacking a player with the flair and pace to create a goal out of nothing, their neat triangles rarely looked like penetrating Leicester's tight marking and tough tackling.

In contrast, the diminutive but clever Cottee's return to partner big, bustling Emile Heskey at the head of Leicester's attack meant they looked like scoring with virtually every break. They were aided by some seasonal generosity from Wednesday's defenders. Heskey shot narrowly wide after Emerson Thome headed the ball into his path and then forced Pavel Srnicek to block with his knees after Des Walker's slip let him in.

Wednesday's goal seemed to be charmed as Muzzy Izzet headed over from Steve Guppy's cross and Cottee forced a save from Srnicek, but the spell was broken in the 33rd minute and again the damage was self-inflicted.

Hinchcliffe was under no pressure when he directed a header back to his own goalkeeper but failed to get enough power behind the ball and Cottee nipped in to beat Srnicek from an acute angle.

"Hinchcliffe made an error but it was a great opportunist goal from Cottee," Wilson said afterwards. The Leicester manager Martin O'Neill said: "I have great faith in Tony's goal-scoring but even I didn't think he would score from there."

Wednesday should have drawn level immediately afterwards but Petter Rudi sliced the chance wide from six yards.

Wednesday adopted a more direct approach after the interval and Wim Jonk was unlucky to lose his footing on the wet surface with a goal at his mercy. But when Niclas Alexandersson poked another good chance over the bar it was clearly going to be one of those afternoons for Wednesday. Perhaps Di Canio was wise to give it a miss.