Football: Di Canio casts a shadow

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Leicester City 1
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The Independent Online
THE POST-MATCH press conference was barely five minutes old before the name came up of the man who had taken no part in this game but who was uppermost in everyone's thoughts.

Paolo di Canio was playing truant in Italy rather than football in South Yorkshire on the day he was due to return to Wednesday's side at the end of his suspension, but he still managed to cast a long shadow over Hillsborough.

Before the game, Wednesday suspended their errant striker for a further two weeks without pay, and all through it they revealed how desperately they need him back - at any price.

"We lack strength in depth," admitted their manager, Danny Wilson, who was also without Benito Carbone, serving a one-match suspension for the verbal, rather than physical, abuse of a referee.

"Whether we get Paolo back is up to him," Wilson said. "We need quality players but there is a serious doubt about whether he is committed to the club. At the moment I am more interested in the rest of the players in my squad, who are prepared to turn out and play for us."

Unfortunately for him, without the flair of their two Italians Wednesday look a very ordinary side, whose lack of ingenuity and firepower was underlined by the fact that the Leicester goalkeeper, Kasey Keller, went through the match without having to make one serious save.

A couple of miscues by Petter Rudi and Niclas Alexandersson, one of which went wide and the other over the bar, were about all they had to show for their patient but largely ineffective approach work.

Wilson's opposite number, Martin O'Neill, struggles along on even thinner resources, yet his own striking partnership of Emile Heskey and Tony Cottee offers a blend of youth and experience, power and subtlety that shows the domestic product can still be as effective as any fancy continental imports.

In the Boxing Day hunt for goals they could have bagged a brace apiece, though a single moment of precision finishing from Cottee was enough to settle it.

The England left-back Andy Hinchcliffe is usually the one reliable cog in a sometimes wayward Wednesday rearguard, but it was his weak back-header that Cottee latched on to in the 33rd minute before directing the half- chance across the face of Pavel Srnicek's goal into the far corner.

"It was hardly a chance at all," O'Neill said afterwards. "It was a terrific goal." Yet it was scant reward for a determined Leicester performance underpinned by the solidity of their back four and revolving round the creativity of their hyperactive midfield playmaker, Neil Lennon, and the reliable supply lines offered by wingers Steve Guppy and Andy Impey.

"We are sometimes allowed more space playing away from home and we exploited it well," O'Neill said.

Goal: Cottee (33) 0-1.

Sheffield Wednesday (4;4;2): Srnicek; Atherton, Thome, Walker, Hinchcliffe; Alexandersson (Briscoe 68), Jonk, Stefanovic, Rudi; Booth, Humphreys (Morrison, 67). Substitutes not used: Magilton, Sonner, Pressman (gk).

Leicester City (4;4;2): Keller; Sinclair, Elliott, Walsh, Ullathorne; Impey (Savage, 81), Lennon, Izzet (Taggart, 90), Guppy; Heskey, Cottee. Substitutes not used: Marshall, Arphexad (gk), Zagorakis.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham). Bookings: Wednesday: Booth, Stefanovic. Leicester: Cottee, Ullathorne.

Man of the match: Lennon.

Attendance: 33,513.