Sheffield Wednesday. .2
(aet; score at 90 min 1-1)
THE match was equal to the day. Wembley will see Sheffield Wednesday three times this season and if yesterday's FA Cup semi-final was merely the appetizer, it served us with everything we could want plus an extra course, the exhilarating topping of Chris Waddle's skills and a late winning goal to bring about a hard-won victory for the more creative side. But it was the day itself that was memorable.
Was there anyone left in Sheffield? The whole city had taken wheels and journeyed down the motorway to London where there were not many fans of either club likely to join the argument against Wembley being offered anything less than real finals. This was as real as steel with a touch of a Buck House garden party thrown in.
If United, who had not played at Wembley since 1936, were feeling slightly self-conscious, Wednesday's team had no FA Cup winners amongst them, not even Waddle, one of those high- fliers who are beyond United's means. And Wembley is always a leveller: how Brian Gayle, the United captain, could vouch for that, his Wimbledon having beaten Liverpool in 1988, though without his help since he was dropped at the last minute. Yesterday, Wednesday's Chris Bart- Williams suffered the same awful fate, fit but excluded at the last moment from a game played against a background of amazing colour and rivalry that was intense yet neighbourly.
The key to the occasion had to be an ability to find composure amid the emotion of this unique day. Waddle might not have climbed the 39 Wembley steps to the Royal Box in his long career but his feel for the Wembley stage was priceless. A nervous opening minute for others was, for him, the start of just another match on the old stamping ground. John Pemberton made one of those typical early careless tackles on Mark Bright and from more than 20 yards Waddle nonchalantly dismissed the expectancy, concealed his intent and bent the free-kick spectacularly inside the near post.
This was Waddle explaining to a wider audience than Sheffield that he still had something special to offer. He may have offended England's present management but here he delighted anyone with appreciation for the good things in the game.
For 20 minutes United doggedly and not altogether unimpressively attempted to overcome their body blow and counter the player who was to be the star. Waddle kept coming at them down the right side, hunched, haunting and haughty. But slowly United gained territory.
United's own right-wing inspiration, Franz Carr, gradually raised a voice from his side of the pitch and Brian Deane began to find space between Carlton Palmer and Viv Anderson but not before Paul Warhurst had moved on to another beguiling pass from Waddle and clipped the crossbar with his shot. United's failure to clamp down on Waddle seemed a gamble always likely to be their undoing yet all the time Alan Cork and Deane were working diligently to turn the tide of the game. Deane headed Dane Whitehouse's cross a shade wide to give Wednesday their first serious scare, but soon Waddle was escaping again to drive a shot alarmingly close to their post.
Cork's enormous contribution to United's work was epitomised when he rose above everyone and forced Chris Woods to leap so high to his cross-goal header that he fell off balance on to his arm and for a while seemed in danger of succumbing to his injury. Patched up, he continued. Warhurst immediately swung the emphasis in favour of Wednesday when blasting a shot on to the join of bar and post. Yet United's stubbornness was always likely to bring some reward, and so it was just a minute from half-time.
Until then Carr's influence had been subdued by his refusal to cut inside, but when faced by three defenders, he dropped back and played an enterprising through pass to Cork who would have been offside had not Waddle dropped back himself. Cork ran on unhindered and slid in a shot. Waddle pursued it guiltily but he had nothing to feel guilty about.
So whatever first-half advantages Wednesday had achieved in most areas, the second brought a fresh beginning and United realised, belatedly, that they could not afford to give Waddle so much freedom. Not that they were thinking defensively.
Woods, who had not been overworked in the first half, now began to earn his keep. Wednesday ought to have been better placed than they were but allowed themselves to get entangled in the game's general deterioration. The intensity and concentration of the early stages gave way to carelessness and some pettiness, but thankfully it passed.
Warhurst had missed flying with England to Turkey but yesterday hoped Wembley would be his magic carpet. It was not to be and after an hour he had to give way to David Hirst, himself not entirely match fit. Things were beginning to swing in favour of the unfavoured United but the game began to slumber, the hype and adrenalin losing its effect.
Hirst was clearly not as sharp as he should have been, twice spurning inviting chances. Indeed, Wednesday should comfortably have avoided extra time but in spite of some glorious long passes from Waddle they failed to sidestep the United defence. John Harkes continually pressed forward and John Sheridan forced Alan Kelly into an important deflection. Extra time became inevitable and in many ways not unwanted on this absorbing afternoon.
If Woods had always been a commanding figure in the Wednesday goal, Kelly, for United, was more one of those Cup-tie heroes for a day. Extra time saw him thrust out arms and legs and make half a dozen super saves; the best of them when Hirst seemed to have the upper hand from Nigel Worthington's cross. Kelly's accurate positioning rather than his agility kept United in the hunt but it was all becoming a trial of endurance needing one final push. It came deep in extra time and with the simplest of goals. Harkes dropped a corner plumb in the centre of the goalmouth and Bright, almost unopposed, headed in. A lot of finals have had less dramatic endings. Sheffield's own version was both dramatic and warmly entertaining.
Sheffield United: A Kelly; K Gage, D Whitehouse, J Gannon, B Gayle, J Pemberton, F Carr, M Ward (A Littlejohn, 96 min), A Cork, B Deane, G Hodges (J Hoyland, 90 min). Manager: D Bassett.
Sheffield Wednesday: C Woods; R Nilsson, N Worthington, C Palmer, J Harkes, V Anderson, D Wilson, C Waddle, P Warhurst (D Hirst, 61 min), M Bright, J Sheridan (G Hyde, 110 min). Manager: T Francis.
Referee: K Morton (Suffolk).
Goals: Waddle 0-1 (1 min); Cork 1-1 (44 min), Bright 1-2 (107 min).
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