Football: Di Canio pushes his luck too far

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday 1

Briscoe 89

Arsenal 0

Attendance: 27,949

WHEN YOU'VE just been tossed into the Worthington Cup bottle bank by a Third Division side, is there a better way of picking up the pieces than to beat the reigning Premiership champions?

Well, yes there is. It is to do it without your star player suspended and facing an FA inquiry for pushing the referee to the ground in a fit of temper after being sent off following a brawl which involved nearly every outfield player.

Paolo Di Canio's reaction to his dismissal in the last minute of the first half will still be reverberating around Hillsborough long after Lee Briscoe's winner in the last minute of the second has been forgotten.

Di Canio, who had pledged to see out his four-year contract with Wednesday only the previous day after a public row with manager Danny Wilson, was promptly suspended by the club. But he undoubtedly faces much stiffer punishment from the FA, and his future in English football is again in doubt.

The incident on which the match turned flared up when Patrick Vieira responded to a foul by Wim Jonk with a push. It was the signal for the sort of punch-up for which Prince Naseem was thought to hold Sheffield's franchise, and when the dust settled, referee Paul Alcock showed red cards to the Wednesday striker and the Arsenal defender Martin Keown.

As the Italian left the field he pushed Mr Alcock to the ground. The referee declined to comment after the match but Wilson said: "Di Canio will remain suspended for as long as it takes, and we will adhere to whatever the FA decide to do. Di Canio just lost it for a split second. We can't condone it, and I suspended him at half-time and sent him straight out of the ground."

The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: "Keown was surprised to be sent off. The referee should have sent four or five people off or nobody. We played well for long periods while it was 11 versus 11 and we were guilty of not taking our chances. We should have been on top long before the sendings- off." The incident was the pivot of a match that Arsenal had dominated and which then tilted in Wednesday's favour.

The momentum of their victory over Manchester United was still behind Arsenal at the start. Des Walker made a fine, saving tackle after Arsenal's fleet 19-year-old striker Nicolas Anelka was released by Vieira, and goalkeeper Kevin Pressman saved one-handed after Dennis Bergkamp's neat flick set Ray Parlour free.

Vieira's goal-bound shot was punched away by Pressman and Parlour chipped wide when the keeper was stranded racing off his line to deny Anelka. Wednesday's only worthwhile response before the fracas was a cross from Petter Rudi on which Niclas Alexandersson failed to get a clean contact.

Bergkamp had a golden opportunity to break his goal drought as the depleted sides returned after half-time when Emmanuel Petit released him into space in the penalty area. But with the deliberation of a man over-anxious to score, his careful side-foot shot gave Pressman time to deny him with his own left boot.

The dismissals had clearly upset Arsenal's rhythm and as Wednesday's influence increased, stand-in goalkeeper Alex Manninger turned Emerson Thome's powerful header over the crossbar. Substitute Briscoe should have put Wednesday ahead when he met Andy Hinchcliffe's cross with only the goalkeeper to beat but contrived to steer the ball wide and Hinchcliffe was the provider again as Tony Adams' header eluded his own keeper, almost ending up in the net.

The match was decided in the final minute when Briscoe received the ball at the angle of the penalty area and, seeing Manninger off his line, placed a superbly weighted chip into the far corner. Yet Wednesday could still have doubled their margin of victory when another substitute striker, Richie Humphreys, raced clear with only Manninger to beat. The goalkeeper dashed beyond his area and seemed to handle the ball, but that would have been a sending off too far. The referee diplomatically blew to bring the match to an end.

But the inquest was only just beginning. Police are investigating an incident in the tunnel after the final whistle involving Vieira. Fans claim he made a V-sign as he walked off the pitch and was then involved in a confrontation with a policeman, though it was confirmed that no player had been arrested.