Football: Shreeves reaps reward of Pleat's long-term plan

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday 5 Bolton Wanderers 0

Never mind the Euro, football directors have been dealing in a single currency for years, the one with which David Pleat, one of the most articulate, imaginative and respected managers in the game, paid for Sheffield Wednesday's recent failings a week ago.

Within the limited imagination of the average football club board, sacking the manager is not so much the last as the only resort in a crisis. Many more days like Saturday, however, and the men in suits at Hillsborough might start to wish they had stuck with "wait and see".

Pleat had always insisted, even amid the wreckage of the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford that sealed his fate, that the return of injured players and the full integration of new ones would reveal his team's true capabilities. To some, the Wednesday board apparently among them, it may have seemed a tired excuse. This was a performance that suggested otherwise.

Driven by the vision of Pleat's last signing, the Norwegian midfielder Petter Rudi, inspired by the sublime skills of Paolo Di Canio, one of his brace of Italians, and empowered by the finishing of Andy Booth, back with a hat-trick after a two-month absence, Wednesday were far too good for Bolton, whose new-found self-belief evaporated during 24 minutes of vibrant attacking.

Booth, bought for pounds 2.7m last year, was one of those, like Peter Atherton, whose absence Pleat saw as critical, a view endorsed on Saturday by Shreeves, who will learn his own fate when the new man, whose identity is yet to be revealed, is appointed this week.

"I was very fortunate to have Peter and Andy available to start today, although it was a gamble to play them," Shreeves said. "I must feel sorry for David because I had them today while he was unable to do so over the last couple of months."

Bolton, who arrived with new-found optimism after defeating Chelsea and drawing with Liverpool, were surprisingly poor, but the quality of Wednesday's movement and finishing should not be underplayed. Di Canio launched the rout with skilfully curled shot, Guy Whittingham added momentum with a powerful header and then Booth came into his own.

The 23-year-old former Huddersfield striker gathered his hat-trick in just 16 minutes, first flicking home a Di Canio cross, then driving in an Ian Nolan pass before Rudi, Di Canio and Guy Whittingham combined to set up his third.

Pleat's dismissal, Booth said afterwards, had caused surprise in the dressing-room, widely predicted though it had been. "I thought they would have given him a bit more time," he said. "He always said we would do better with a full squad available and myself, Athers and Hyde always had a chance of playing today."

Time, however, is a luxury football club boards rarely dispense. Nor, when they have a manager to take the rap, do they properly acknowledge the influence of players in bringing a club to its knees.

As if to emphasise the point, Colin Todd, the Bolton manager, made a dramatic entrance to the post-match Press conference flanked by full-back Mike Whitlow and midfielder Per Frandsen, who were there, he explained, to apologise for letting their supporters down.

"I've brought them along," Todd said, "because there are times when it has to be said that what happens on the field is the players' responsibility."

Pleat, no doubt, would say "aye" to that.

Goals: Di Canio (20) 1-0; Whittingham (26) 2-0; Booth (29) 3-0; Booth (33) 4-0; Booth (44) 5-0.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nolan, Pembridge, Newsome, Walker; Whittingham, Atherton (Hyde, 69), Magilton, Rudi; Booth (Donaldson, 60), Di Canio (Blondeau 80). Substitutes not used: Collins, Clarke (gk).

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Phillips (Carr, 34), Fish, Bergsson, Whitlow; Pollock, Frandsen (Todd, 34), Thompson, Gunnlaugsson; Holdsworth, Blake. Substitutes not used: Beardsley, Johansen, Ward (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Di Canio, Atherton, Newsome, Pembridge. Bolton: Phillips, Thompson, Holdsworth.

Attendance: 25,027.

Man of the match: Rudi.

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