Football: Hirst the pick of an epic variety show

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday. .3

Chelsea. . . . . . . .3

GRAHAM TAYLOR'S job is more M 1 than Route One at the moment. Last season, the England manager did not need to travel far from Lancaster Gate to check on prospective centre-forwards - Alan Smith and Ian Wright at Arsenal, Gary Lineker at Tottenham, with the odd trip south to see Alan Shearer at Southampton. But now in the search for Lineker's successor, Taylor's attentions are turning north - to Shearer again, now Blackburn-based, and the Sheffield goal-stealers, David Hirst and Brian Deane.

Shearer, with three goals already, one fewer than Hirst and Deane, is considered favourite - with, possibly, Deane in support - for the friendly with Spain in Santander on 9 September. Hirst, though, has many fans outside Hillsborough's Kop, where his every touch is cheered religiously. A combination of Hirst and Shearer is unlikely to gel - they would get in each other's way - but the Wednesday man could become a valuable squad member.

Hirst cost the Owls only pounds 200,000 from Barnsley, his home club, six years ago and has been scoring ever since. The burly striker could have had five against Chelsea in the first half. He settled for two, a low shot in the 26th minute and, 10 minutes later, a penalty after he had been felled by Steve Clarke. The old-fashioned board recording the goalscorers read 9 9: one more from Hirst and Chelsea would have been calling for an ambulance.

Pulses never settled throughout a stirring match, both sides attacking relentlessly. If Hirst provides promise for England's present, three of the principal prompters of this end-to-end epic - Paul Williams and Chris Bart-Williams of Wednesday and Chelsea's Graham Stuart - show hope for the future.

Williams, a B international, is in formidable form, as Hirst's sidekick and tormentor of defenders in his own right. Bart-Williams is, potentially, an even more exciting prospect. Only 18, this composed England youth midfielder belongs to the David Gower school of sport - languid, but oozing class. An Under-21 cap, and possibly B honours, beckon this season.

The most spectacular contribution from the trio of tyros came from Stuart in the 58th minute. Vinnie Jones had turned the tide after the break, and Chelsea's equaliser will live long in the memory. Stuart picked up the ball deep in his own half and strode into the heart of Wednesday's fragile defence. Keeping the ball on his right foot, he bemused Nigel Pearson and Paul Warhurst, before shooting past Chris Woods. 'It was a one in a million goal,' said the Under- 21 midfielder, dressed like a King's Road beau afterwards.

The finale was as colourful as Stuart's tweeds. Eddie Newton put Chelsea ahead nimbly, before Danny Wilson levelled with nine minutes left. So that is why they call it 'Thrillsborough'.

Goals: Hirst (26) 1-0; Hirst pen (36) 2-0; Jones (48) 2-1; Stuart (58) 2-2; Newton (64) 2-3; Wilson (81) 3-3.

Sheffield Wednesday: Woods; Nilsson, King (Francis, 68), Palmer, Pearson, Warhurst, Harkes (Wilson, 77), Bart-Williams, Hirst, Williams, Worthington. Substitute not used: Beresford (gk).

Chelsea: Beasant; Clarke, Hall, Jones, Elliott, Donaghy, Stuart, Fleck, Harford (Allon, 77), Townsend, Newton. Substitutes not used: Matthew, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: L Dilkes (Mossley).

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