Football: Wednesday punished by superior finishing

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The Independent Online
Guy Hodgson

Sheffield Wednesday 0

Blackburn Rovers 3

Ron Atkinson knows a good FA Cup side when he sees one and he thought he perceived one in his own Sheffield Wednesday. Think again. The winners of the competition might have been on display at Hillsborough last night, but if they were they were Blackburn Rovers.

Instead of Big Ron dreaming of a third FA Cup to go with the two he won with Manchester United, Blackburn will travel to West Ham in the fifth round after comfortably disposing of Wednesday with goals from Chris Sutton, Tim Sherwood and Damien Duff.

In the finish, it was finishing that separated the sides. In front of a paltry crowd of 15,940 Wednesday had their chances that were missed partly through a curious reluctance to shoot. Rovers, in contrast, were as cool as the weather in front of goal.

There were a few milestones on the road to David Pleat's dismissal as Sheffield Wednesday's manager, but the 7-2 demolition by Blackburn at Ewood Park was among the largest. A subsequent 0-0 draw on Boxing Day had restored a balance of sorts although, as Ron Atkinson said in last night's programme, the result could have been 5-1 for either team.

Wednesday were without the injured Andy Booth which made Atkinson's mind up for him in terms of strikers, although he would probably opted for the nimble subtleties of Paolo Di Canio and Benito Carbone in any case. The Italians had bewitched the large Newcastle centre-backs in their last home League game and Stephane Henchoz and Colin Hendry are built on similar lines. So much for theory.

Wednesday's first attack came after 10 seconds, Carbone's 30-yard lob dropping on to the roof of the net, but any assumptions of home rule were torn to shreds after five minutes when Blackburn took the lead.

Kevin Gallacher threaded a delightful pass down the right right, giving Stuart Ripley the space to whip over the quick cross that defenders dislike most - Jon Newsome, more than anyone, because his attempt to clear merely teed the ball up invitingly. From a range of six yards Sutton turned and volleyed past Kevin Pressman.

Newsome lay on the ground in a suitable gesture of guilt but charged forward in an attempt to make amends after 19 minutes, arcing a header towards the top corner from Guy Whittingham's cross. Tim Flowers tipped that over and made an even better save 10 minutes later, springing to his right to get a hand to Whittingham's swerving volley from the right of the area.

Those attacks gave Wednesday hope that was dashed in a 30-second spell that could have brought an equaliser only to end in Blackburn going 2- 0 ahead.

Jim Magilton played a delightful ball over the Rovers back four and Petter Rudi could not be faulted for a touch that took him beyond Flowers' advance. The goal was empty, but Henchoz sprinted across the area to clear and, in the blink of an eye, it was suddenly Wednesday who were carved open. Jason Wilcox curled an immaculate cross to Gallacher, his shot was saved by Pressman's feet and Sherwood smashed the rebound into the net.

Such passages of play make and break Cup runs and there was further confirmation that Sheffield Wednesday's name was not on the trophy two minutes after half-time. Di Canio crossed from the left wing and Carbone, in the six- yard box, could pick his spot as the ball floated over Hendry. He did, but it was the wrong one and the ball bounced against a post. That effectively was that, Duff's flamboyant 87th-minute goal, an embellishment to a routine night for Rovers. Gallacher passed from the right, the Irish winger flicked over Ian Nolan and then volleyed past Pressman.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-1-1): Pressman; Nolan, Newsome, Walker, Pembridge; Whittingham (Humphreys, 61), Atherton, Magilton (Oakes, 61), Rudi; Carbone; Di Canio. Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Nicol, Stefanovic.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Henchoz, Hendry, Wilcox; Ripley (Valery, 29), Sherwood, McKinlay, Duff (Andersson, 88); Gallacher, Sutton. Substitutes: Pedersen, Fettis (gk), Beattie.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

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