Football: Wednesday's optimism deflated

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Sheffield Wednesday 0 Derby County 1

AS JANUARYS go, this one had been progressing better than Wednesday could have hoped for when they made their New Year resolutions.

Unbeaten in League and Cup since the turn of the year, they had even managed to bring the long-running Di Canio saga to an end by off-loading him to West Ham for more money than many people believed possible.

But the balloon of optimism over Hillsborough was punctured twice in a three-minute spell early in the second half which briefly brightened a game that was otherwise as gloomy as the weather.

For most of it, the contrasting styles of the two sides cancelled each other out. Wednesday's one-touch approach work was frustrated by Derby's crowded midfield, and when the sides were not giving the ball away to each other, Derby's powerful back three, in which Horacio Carbonari was outstanding, and Wednesday's four-man defensive wall ensured that the two goalkeepers had quiet afternoons.

Then Derby won a corner which Wednesday failed to clear. Kevin Harper pulled the ball back from the byline and defender Spencer Prior who had stolen unmarked into the penalty area, rose to thump a powerful header past Pavel Srnicek.

Prior had obviously been informed that there was to be a blue moon yesterday, for that is about as often as he gets his name on the scoresheet. The last time was in 1996, playing for Norwich.

It was just as well for nobody else looked likely to break the deadlock and Wednesday's chances of doing so virtually evaporated three minutes later when Srnicek was sent off.

The goalkeeper raced out of his penalty area in pursuit of a 50-50 ball with Derby's 19-year-old substitute Malcolm Christie and though he attempted a flying kick at the ball, it was the man with whom he made contact. It was a glancing blow, but Christie lay prone as though he was the victim in one of his namesake's novels, and David Elleray's verdict was the red card.

"I thought it was a harsh sending-off. He was genuinely going for the ball," the Wednesday manager, Danny Wilson, said. "Now he faces a three- match automatic suspension".

As is customary, Wednesday played better with 10 men than they had with 11, although that was not saying a great deal. "They put us under a bit of pressure and got a lot of balls into the box," the Derby manager, Jim Smith, said, "But I was pleased that we defended with a lot of passion and grit".

Goal: Prior 54 (0-1).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Srnicek; Atherton, Thome, Walker, Hinchcliffe; Alexandersson (Pressman, gk, 57), Jonk (Newsome, 85), Stesanovic, Rudi; Carbone, Booth (Humphreys, 54). Substitutes not used: Cobian, Briscoe.

Derby County (3-4-1-2): Hoult; Prior, Carbonari, Laursen; Carsley, Bohinen (Schnoor, 84), Dorigo, Stimac; Baiano (Eranio, 76); Harper, Sturridge (Christie, h-t). Substitutes not used: Knight (gk), Hunt.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Sending-off: Sheffield Wednesday: Srnicek. Booking: Derby: Eranio.

Man of the match: Carbonari.

Attendance: 24,440.