Football: Panic decision pays off for Atkinson

Southampton 2 Sheffield Wednesday 3
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Ron Atkinson knows he is a lucky man, and not just because Sheffield Wednesday won a game on Saturday that had defeat written all over it midway through the second half.

He has inherited a side whose potential far exceeds the position they found themselves in when David Pleat was shown the door. A side, in fact, that would probably have won their last three games whoever was in charge, simply because injured players recovered. Atkinson conceded that this was the case.

"Beating Arsenal last week was a massive boost for us," he said. "But the 5-0 win over Bolton the previous week, before I came in, was the most important. I haven't changed the team at all."

What he could take credit for, however, were the two substitutions that turned the game around. Having seen his side take a first-half lead from a Peter Atherton tap-in, Atkinson then watched as two former Wednesday players, David Hirst and Carlton Palmer, put the Saints ahead with precision strikes.

It was after Palmer's goal that Atkinson introduced Wayne Collins for the former Southampton captain, Jim Magilton, and Collins scored within minutes. Then, with 15 minutes remaining, a largely ineffectual Andy Booth was replaced by Benito Carbone, who started the move that led to Paolo Di Canio's convoluted run and winning goal.

"They were decisions borne out of panic," said a grinning Atkinson. He is fully aware though, that with Di Canio in form, and others increasingly influential, notably Des Walker, Ian Nolan and Carbone, his primary task of avoiding relegation will not be the struggle it appeared a month ago. And the fact that he is more fortunate to have been made the Wednesday manager than Wednesday are to have made him the manager will remain immaterial for a while longer.

As for his counterpart, Dave Jones, the main problem, as always at The Dell, is the defence. And judging by the way he spoke it was clear that the days of one or more at the back are numbered.

Goals: Atherton (28) 0-1; Hirst (48) 1-1; Palmer (55) 2-1; Collins (69) 2-2; Di Canio (84) 2-3

Southampton (4-3-1-2): Jones; Benali, Lundekvam, Monkou, Dodd; Palmer, Oakley, Richardson (Basham, 88); Le Tissier; Davies, Hirst (Ostenstad, 83). Substitutes not used: Todd; Dryden, Flahaven (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday: (4-4-2): Pressman; Pembridge, Walker, Newsome, Nolan; Rudi, Atherton, Magilton (Collins, 65), Whittingham; Di Canio, Booth (Carbone, 76). Substitutes not used: Hyde, Humphreys, Clarke (gk).

Referee: S. Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Southampton: Davies.

Man of the match: Di Canio.

Attendance: 15,244.