Football: Di Canio's push risks his career

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Arsenal 0
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The Independent Online
IT IS customary for the name on the scoresheet to grab most of the post-match attention, but in this case poor old Lee Briscoe had to play second fiddle to the names on the charge sheet.

With Wednesday's Paolo Di Canio suspended indefinitely by his club and facing an FA disrepute charge and Arsenal's Patrick Vieira helping South Yorkshire police with their inquiries after an alleged incident in the tunnel at the end of the match even Martin Keown, who rather unambitiously confined himself to getting sent off, barely gets a look-in.

Briscoe's last-minute goal ended Arsenal's unbeaten record, bringing the champions back to earth after their demolition of Manchester United and lifting Wednesday's self- esteem following their rejection from the Worthington Cup by Third Division Cambridge United. But it was overshadowed by a shameful episode in the 44th minute that will once again put English football in the dock.

It began innocuously enough, with Vieira shimmying from Wednesday's Dutch midfielder Wim Jonk well inside his own half, and being hauled back by his shirt-tail. Vieira responded with an ill-tempered shove and Jonk pirouetted rather theatrically to the ground.

A free-kick and a yellow card apiece seemed in order, but whether prompted by the Frenchman's push or the suspicion that the Dutchman was trying to get him sent off, a major international incident quickly ensued, with at least a dozen players who had not been initially involved rushing to the scene. Prominent among them was Di Canio, whose manifold skills do not include diplomacy.

He was clearly seen to aim a kick at the Arsenal centre-back Keown, whose only offence seemed to be to defend himself against the onslaught. Di Canio had to go, but when the referee, Paul Alcock, brandished the card he saw red then in more ways than one, giving the official a petulant two-handed shove in the chest that sent him staggering back to end up sprawled on the pitch.

Di Canio's manager, Danny Wilson, with whom he has had a tempestuous relationship over the past few weeks, immediately suspended the player indefinitely and sent him home. But even more draconian punishment must surely follow from the FA, and Di Canio's future at Hillsborough and in the English game must once again be in doubt.

"The severity of the incident is unquestionable. I just don't know what went through his mind," Wilson said. "His emotions were very mixed up and best thing to do was to get him down the tunnel and out of the ground as quickly as possible."

The unfortunate Keown also received his marching orders, but his case is likely to attract more sympathy. The Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, said that he would consider an appeal after studying the match video, and denied there had been any incident in the tunnel involving Vieira.

Wrapped around all this was a football match, which was won by Wednesday because they proved to be better at the 10-a-side game.

Before the fracas, only the heroics of their goalkeeper Kevin Pressman had kept them in the match. You will not find his technique in many of the textbooks, but he has the uncanny ability to get some part of his anatomy in the way of the ball.

He denied Ray Parlour with one hand, Nicolas Anelka with his chest and Dennis Bergkamp, still nervously seeking his first goal of the season, with his left boot before Briscoe came on with just half an hour left.

The substitute ought to have put Wednesday in front with a free header before Jonk found him at the angle of the penalty area, and his delicate chip eluded Arsenal's goalkeeper Alex Manninger and floated under the bar. Ritchie Humphreys should have doubled Wednesday's lead when he shot wide with only Manninger to beat in the dying seconds, but by then the Sheffield faithful were already discussing how long it would be before they were saying Ciao Paolo - it's arrividerci England.

Goal: Briscoe (89) 1-0.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Cobian, Thome, Walker, Hinchcliffe; Atherton, Jonk (Magilton, 89), Rudi, Alexanderson (Briscoe, 59); Di Canio, Booth (Humphreys, 19). Substitutes not used: Barrett, Clarke (gk).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Vivas, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Bergkamp, Vieira, Petit (Hughes, 77), Overmars (Bould 45); Parlour (Ljungberg. 77), Anelka. Substitutes not used: Garde, Taylor,

Referee: P Alcock (Surrey).

Bookings: Wednesday: Thome. Arsenal: Winterburn, Vivas. Sendings-off: Wednesday: Di Canio. Arsenal: Keown.

Man of the match: Pressman.

Attendance: 27,949.