Football: O'Neill keeps focus on football

Leicester City 3 Sheffield Wednesday 0
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The Independent Online
"IF THIS is a club in turmoil," Danny Wilson might have said, "I'd hate to come here when everything's going well."

What the Sheffield Wednesday manager did say is that Leicester are not given the recognition they deserve as a Premiership force, which at the moment serves as a tribute to the way in which Martin O'Neill has kept his players focused on football in spite of the drawn-out power struggle in the boardroom.

However, keeping politics out of football works only up to a point. This morning, O'Neill will attempt to resurrect a transfer deal that is threatened with collapse because of Leicester's uncertain future.

The player involved, by coincidence, is Sheffield Wednesday's Andy Booth, whom Wilson's club agreed to sell for pounds 2.75m only for the deal to stall on Friday last week. Officially, disagreement over the breakdown of payments is the explanation for the delay. However, O'Neill's evasiveness when asked about the hold-up suggests there is rather more to it. "The problem over payments is probably part of the reason it has not gone through," he said. "I shall try to resurrect the deal but I'm not sure I'm confident about it."

The full story remains a mystery but it would be quite understandable if the Wednesday board share the misgivings of Goldwing Properties Ltd, the developers involved in Leicester's planned pounds 25m new stadium, who withdrew from the project last week, doubting the club's ability to come up with the cash while the boardroom feud continues.

Such matters apart, the other question to be answered is why O'Neill would want to sign Booth, who has not scored in his last 20 Premiership games and would surely displace neither Emile Heskey nor Tony Cottee, whom O'Neill singled out for praise on Saturday. The suspicion is that the arrival of Booth would prepare for the sale of Heskey, although O'Neill denies he is ready to part with the 21-year-old.

Then again, after his performance in this contest, no manager would. Heskey, enormously powerful but blessed with a good touch, led the line superbly, posing a constant menace even though he did not himself score. Increasingly confident, he treated even the still revered Des Walker with such disdain. Booth, meanwhile, took no part at all, crying off as mentally unprepared to do battle against prospective team-mates. In his absence, Wednesday were quite simply ravaged by the better team.

Leicester, back up to fifth place, gained the upper hand through two set-pieces as Gerry Taggart twice exposed Pavel Srnicek's fear of the high ball. To add insult to Srnicek's inadequacies, the 5ft 8in Cottee headed the third.

Goals: Taggart (24) 1-0; Taggart (36) 2-0; Cottee (57) 3-0.

Leicester City (3-5-2): Flowers; Sinclair, Elliott, Taggart (Gilchrist, 77); Impey, Savage (Zagorakis, 86), Lennon, Izzet, Guppy; Cottee (Oakes, 88), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Marshall, Arphexad (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Srnicek; Atherton, Thome, Walker, Hinchcliffe; Alexandersson, Jonk, Sonner, Rudi (Cresswell, 62); Sibon, De Bilde. Substitutes not used: Pressman (gk), Briscoe, Haslam, Crane.

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).

Booking: Sheffield Wednesday: Thome.

Man of the match: Heskey.

Attendance: 19,046.