FOOTBALL: Wonder of Waddle whips Wilkinson

Jon Culley witnesses the revitalisation of Sheffield Wednesday, who beat Leeds United 6-2 at Hillsborough on Saturday
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The Independent Online
At some point this week, when work permits come through and pounds 4.5m worth of Yugoslav international talent becomes available, David Pleat will have to look back on his happiest day as Sheffield Wednesday manager and decide whether to break up a team running into its best form of the season.

After failing, some would say unluckily, to turn two goals into victory at Old Trafford seven days earlier, Wednesday resumed with a game of counter- attack so stunningly effective that Leeds were left shocked and bemused.

Into this, somehow, have to be fitted pounds 2.5m striker Darko Kovacevic and pounds 2m defender Dejan Stefanovic, both signed late last week from Red Star Belgrade.

In that respect, it would have been easier for Pleat had 33-year-old Mark Bright not scored his fifth goal in as many matches, had David Hirst not demonstrated revitalised deadliness with two, and had Lee Briscoe not excelled himself at left-back, the position in which Stefanovic feels most at home.

"I'm sure they think they will walk into the side," Pleat said. "I hope they think so. We will name 16 players for next week's match and they will be in the 16." And, in terms of divulging inner thoughts, that was that. It had been only his fifth Premiership victory as Wednesday manager and he had no wish to spoil the moment.

"We got the breaks today," he added. "We worked very well for our goals and they were beauties; I mean, those goals go in the cabinet, where you can get them out and show to your kids."

Bright's header, 22 minutes into the second half, was the clincher, coming after Leeds - who were 3-1 down at half-time - had laid siege to Kevin Pressman's goal in a spell which might have turned the match had it brought them a goal.

On the other hand, 3-0 up in 25 minutes, maybe Wednesday's points were already in the bag. And they were assured when Hirst, not as mobile as he once was but still clinical near goal, added the fifth and sixth, rendering Tomas Brolin's first strike for Leeds irrelevant.

At least Pleat does not need to think about dropping Marc Degryse or Chris Waddle. The Belgian, after powering home Briscoe's perfect cross to open the floodgates, finished off a clever free-kick move in which Waddle chipped the ball over Leeds' defensive wall and later paved the way for Hirst to score the fifth with a feint and turn executed in the blinking of an eye.

Waddle, 35 last week, seemed meanwhile to be everywhere, teasing Leeds with a jinking run here, a curling pass there. He had a part in four of the goals, directly making two.

It was Leeds' heaviest defeat in seven years under the stewardship of Howard Wilkinson, who spoke afterwards, in the figurative way he favours, of being "at a crossroads" from which his team will continue with no certain direction or else, as Wilkinson put it, "get back to doing the sort of things that win football matches, as a matter of habit."

He took responsibility for picking two players, Gary Kelly and Tony Yeboah, who were weary from midweek international duty and offered no excuses. "We attacked like a team who could have scored six or seven, but defended like a team who could concede six," he said.

Goals: Degryse (6) 1-0; Whittingham (17) 2-0; Degryse (25) 3-0; Brolin (27) 3-1; Bright (67) 4-1; Hirst (71) 5-1; Wallace (83) 5-2; Hirst (86) 6-2.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-1-3-2): Pressman; Nolan, Atherton, Walker, Briscoe; Nicol; Degryse, Waddle, Whittingham (Hyde, h-t); Hirst, Bright. Substitutes not used: Sinton, Watts.

Leeds United (5-3-2): Lukic; Kelly (Wallace, h-t), Wetherall, Palmer, Jobson, Dorigo; Couzens, McAllister, Speed; Yeboah (Deane, 64), Brolin. Substitute not used: Worthington.

Referee: R Hart (Darlington).

Attendance: 24,573.

Man of the match: Waddle.

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