For a man who had just seen his team canter to an emphatic victory and consolidate their place in the automatic slots for promotion to the Premiership, Kevin Keegan did not seem especially at ease. "I don't think we ever played great tonight," the Manchester City manager said. "I'll settle for 4-0, but it wasn't vintage."
Despite the score, he was right. Kevin Horlock and Darren Huckerby scored before the break, and Eyal Berkovic and Shaun Goater afterwards, but they and their team-mates also spurned more chances than they converted. Sheffield Wednesday, moreover, had never threatened to be daunting opponents and their defending, at times, was woeful. And for all the goals – and flair, not least from Berkovic, and endeavour, from Huckerby – the result still leaves City trailing Wolves by five points in the First Division table.
True, City have two games in hand. But March will see a fixture list that involves eight league games in 27 days, five of them away. "I think it will hard for us to win the championship now," Keegan had written in his programme notes. It seems almost churlish to agree after last night, but he could yet be proved right. The City fans no doubt appreciate all the goals, but unless they can score them with such regularity against tougher opponents then the Premiership might not be as close as they could like to think.
City were dominant from the start with Huckerby a constant threat with his runs at the opposition defence. Berkovic was also able to find space to create despite being man-marked. "He was only 80 to 90 per cent fit," Keegan said. "But I'd rather have him 80 per cent and in my team than not in it." And Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was substituted after sustaining a gash to the leg, was tireless down the right. When the trio worked in harmony, the visitors' defence looked ragged just trying to keep track of them. The only problem was that the flair was sporadic, as was classy finishing.
The opener came on eight minutes. Huckerby had run down the left, Wright-Phillips down the right and Berkovic lurked deeper in the middle. Wednesday dashed to cover, leaving a hole the size of a house. Goater, free to hustle for the ball, fed a pass into the abyss and Horlock curled a peach of a shot 25 yards into the net.
The second goal, just after the half-hour, came as result of a similar lack of defensive nous. Wright-Phillips threaded a pass into Huckerby's path as the latter ran from midfield. Huckerby needed a few steps and a feint to reach the edge of box. His low shot left Kevin Pressman standing. "It's a team game, so I blame the team," said Terry Yorath, Wednesday's manager, unwilling to pick out individuals for criticism.
Richard Edghill, on for the injured Wright-Phillips, almost set up a third goal on the hour, but Pressman beat Huckerby to his short cross. City then saw two gilt-edged chances go begging. Goater misheaded one. Huckerby then passed to an invisible team-mate from six yards rather than shoot. "His performance was fantastic apart from his finishing," Keegan said.
Huckerby did go some way to making amends by setting up Berkovic's 20-yard drive for the third goal. But he then had a penalty saved. Goater's goal, and City's fourth, was gifted after Wednesday's Ashley Westwood passed him the ball.
Manchester City (5-3-2): Weaver; Dunne, Howey, Pearce, Wright-Phillips (Edghill, 45), Berkovic (Ritchie, 78); Horlock, Tiatto, Jensen; Goater, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Wiekens, Killen.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Haslam, Westwood, Broomes, Armstrong; Hamshaw (Ekoku, 69), McLaren, Soltvedt, Quinn; Kuqi, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Sibon, Maddix, Donnelly.
Referee: P Durkin (Portland).