Football: The might of Wright

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The Independent Online
IAN WRIGHT scored on his League debuts for Crystal Palace in 1985 and Arsenal in 1991 and he did it again when, with West Ham United's leading scorer of last season, John Hartson, suspended, the 34-year-old former Gunner fired in after 84 minutes to earn the Londoners a 1-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday.

How Danny Wilson, the Wednesday manager, must hate the sight of the Hammers' claret and blue on the season's first day. Last term, when Wilson was in charge of newly promoted Barnsley, the East Enders spoiled the Tykes' Premiership debut with a 2-1 win at Oakwell. And yesterday they ensured there would be no celebratory start as Ron Atkinson's successor.

But Wilson must have been encouraged by the bright start made by Wednesday, the club he served with distinction for three seasons as a player. Wim Jonk, the stylish Dutch international midfielder he bought from PSV Eindhoven for pounds 2.5m, had the best chance in the opening exchanges, shooting wide from 12 yards when set up in the eighth minute by Pettr Rudi's ball in from the left. Earlier, Benito Carbone had headed wide in the second minute and after Jonk's miss Paolo Di Canio shot wide.

In addition to Wright, Harry Redknapp, the Londoners' manager, had two other new signings in his starting line-up, notably Neil Ruddock, who partnered Rio Ferdinand and Ian Pearce at centre-back. Typically, the former Spurs and Liverpool stopper became the first Hammer to be booked in the new season when, after 12 minutes, he kicked the ball away at a free-kick.

Another summer recruit to West Ham, the former Newcastle United goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, had to be no more than watchful. His opposite number, Kevin Pressman, however, had to make the first save worthy of the name when he tipped Frank Lampard's 22-yard right-foot dipping shot over the bar.

Until then, Wright, partnered in attack by Trevor Sinclair, had been relatively quiet. But in first-half injury time, the Owls' centre-half, Emerson Thome, allowed Eyal Berkovic to steal the ball from him in the penalty area. The Israeli set up Wright, who fired over despite his clearest sight yet of goal.

Four minutes into the second half, Berkovic, the best attacking player on the field, again flitted into the area. Pressman blocked his flicked shot and although the playmaker was first to the rebound, he could only shoot in to the side-netting from the tightest of angles.

Then, with the game entering its closing stages and Wednesday pressing for the winner, Sinclair's through ball sent Wright racing clear. It was a familiar sight, and with only Pressman to beat the striker coolly slipped his shot underneath the advancing keeper.

Meanwhile, Wilson's former team Barnsley, now under the player-manager John Hendrie, still seem to be in mourning after their brief foray into the top flight. They followed last weekend's draw against West Brom with a defeat 3-1 at Crewe, Chris Lightfoot scoring twice.

Bolton, like Barnsley relegated after one season in the Premiership, seem to have recovered more readily from their blues. They followed last Saturday's draw at Crystal Palace with a 2-0 home win over promoted Grimsby Town.

You may have read this before in the course of the past few seasons but... Could this be the year of the Wolves? They are one of only three First Division clubs with a 100 per cent record after the first two games. Steve Bull and Simon Osborn were on target as they won 2-0 at Oxford United. The Second Division champions Watford are also in good form, Michael Ngonge's 63rd-minute goal giving them a home win over Bradford City.

The third six-point start has been made by Bruce Rioch's Norwich City who won 2-0 at Stockport County thanks to a fine effort by 18-year-old Craig Bellamy, calmly tucking away Keith O'Neill's defence splitting pass, and an own goal from Colin Woodthorpe.

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