Football: Nolan's bad break spoils sinking of Spurs

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Di Canio 33 Tottenham Hotspur 0 Attendance: 29,871
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The Independent Online
IT IS a fair bet that Christian Gross will not be taking his players to see Titanic to take their minds off their problems. After this 14th defeat of the season, that sinking feeling at White Hart Lane is becoming all too real.

Like Spurs, Wednesday took on a new pilot to steady the ship in the autumn, and although Ron Atkinson has not exactly worked miracles on his second coming to Hillsborough, the ease with which they overcame woeful opposition suggests he has at least steered them clear of the iceberg zone.

Paolo Di Canio's goal after 33 minutes scarcely reflected Wednesday's superiority but their victory was tempered by a double fracture of the right leg sustained by their right-back Ian Nolan. Nolan was carried off after going for a 50-50 ball with the Spurs full-back Justin Edinburgh. Atkinson said: "He could be out until Christmas. Ian's injury overshadowed the result for us although I felt we were worth the points by some distance."

Nolan's departure disturbed Wednesday's rhythm sufficiently to give Spurs a glimmer of hope after an opening spell which should have seen them comprehensively sunk without trace.

Both sides play neat football along the ground, but the confidence a secure league position endows makes all the difference, as Wednesday demonstrated. Their midfield was assured enough to surge forward behind their Italian strike force of Di Canio and Benito Carbone, and they would have secured victory well before Nolan's unfortunate departure had their finishing been anything like equal to their ambition.

Mark Pembridge burst clear inside the opening minute and seemed so surprised by the lack of resistance from Spurs' ragged rearguard that he shot from the edge of the box when he would surely have beaten Espen Baardsen if he had taken an extra couple of strides. The right wing was Wednesday's favourite route to goal and Spurs could find no means of plugging the gap.

Petter Rudi's cross narrowly evaded Graham Hyde with the goal at his mercy and Baardsen made a diving stop from Pembridge after Carbone's cross had been diverted into his path by Di Canio. Carbone and Nolan both saw shots roll tantalisingly wide but it was from the right once more that the almost inevitable goal arrived. Hyde nutmegged Edinburgh but his cross ricocheted around the goalmouth before falling to Rudi, whose shot cannoned off a defender for Di Canio to score from close range.

Then came Nolan's injury and David Ginola at last began to let his hair down. His curling shot brought a fine falling catch from Kevin Pressman and his prompting produced a belated Spurs revival which culminated in Chris Armstrong hitting a post in the dying seconds.

Even so, Wednesday would already have sealed victory had Rudi converted the best chance of the match when Di Canio put him clear with only the goalkeeper to beat. "The defending for the goal was poor," Gross said. "But I don't want to talk about individual mistakes - we win together and lose together. It looks as though we will be fighting relegation until the end of the season; we must win our next game against Bolton."