Football: Pleat's plight cheered by ray of light

Sheffield Wednesday 3 Everton 1
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Sheffield Wednesday 3 Everton 1

It was a strange day for the Wednesday manager. The words of his chairman on local radio, delivering a vague assertion that the board would "act when the time is right" on the matter of reversing the club's declining fortunes, could hardly be interpreted as an endorsement of his position. Then there was a denial to make, the second in little more than a week, over reports that one of his foreign players wanted to go home. The match almost became an afterthought.

Such is the lot of David Pleat, who must have been much more relieved than he was inclined to admit after a game that threatened often to go wrong but suddenly went right in the last 12 minutes. On Saturday he felt chuffed, above all, because it was his two Italians, Paulo Di Canio and Benito Carbone, who turned the game. They are two players of uncertain temperament but extraordinary ball skills, upon whom Pleat appears to be gambling his future.

Having paid Internazionale pounds 3m for Carbone last winter, Pleat committed another pounds 3m of Wednesday's budget when Di Canio and Celtic fell out in the summer. There cannot be much left and Pleat is only too aware, if the investment does not pay off, his head will be on the block.

And yet one must, in some ways, admire his courage. Pleat is a genuine enthusiast, a man so absorbed in watching a player of particular talent he can become quite oblivious to the other aspects of a game, which is not how a manager is supposed to be.

Now he has two players from whom he can hardly bear to look away and their success is in danger of becoming Pleat's obsession. "We need to get things right behind the Italians," he says, indicating clearly that they come first and that the rest of the team must adapt to them.

It is a policy riddled with potential pitfalls. The two appear to play more through instinct than planning, creating off-the-cuff moves with which some of their less gifted colleagues struggle to keep up. Saturday appeared to be just one of those days as Di Canio, for want of adequate support, ran off into one blind alley after another and Carbone found his passes going to where team-mates were not.

But then, after 78 minutes of frustration and tedium everything came right. Di Canio set up Lee Briscoe to provide a cross from which Carbone headed Wednesday in front, then Di Canio, with Paul Gerrard's arms around his legs, won a penalty which Carbone converted.

Danny Cadamarteri pulled a goal back, but Di Canio then left Andy Hinchcliffe in a heap before knocking home Wednesday's third.

Goals: Carbone (78) 1-0; Carbone pen (82) 2-0; Cadamarteri (84) 2-1; Di Canio (89) 3-1.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nolan, Walker, Stefanovic, Nicol (Briscoe, 66); Whittingham, Magilton (Poric, 83), Collins, Pembridge (Hirst, 72); Carbone, Di Canio. Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Oakes.

Everton (4-4-2): Gerrard, Thomas (Short, 86), Watson, Bilic, Hinchcliffe; Stuart, Williamson, Speed, Oster; Ball (Barmby, h-t), Cadamarteri. Substitutes not used: Southall (gk), Barrett, Phelan.

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Wednesday: Di Canio, Carbone. Everton: Thomas.

Man of the match: Di Canio.

Attendance: 24,486.