Harkness strike lifts gloom

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The Independent Football

It was hardly convincing and certainly not pretty, but after the worst run of League defeats in their 108-year history Sheffield Wednesday were happy to settle for a victory of any kind.

It was hardly convincing and certainly not pretty, but after the worst run of League defeats in their 108-year history Sheffield Wednesday were happy to settle for a victory of any kind.

It lifted them off the foot of the First Division table and they had the added satisfaction of achieving it at the expense of their former manager, Trevor Francis's promotion chasers.

Ironically, it was the introduction of Wednesday's much- maligned Dutch striker Gerald Sibon which changed the course of a scrappy game. His ungainly presence unsettled Birmingham's previously imperious back four and with almost an hour gone he won the corner from which Wednesday scored.

Owen Morrison picked out Terry Cooke at the far post. The knock-back fell to Steve Harkness, who struck the ball low and hard for his first goal since his £200,000 move from Blackburn.

Until then, Wednesday's afternoon had looked like following its normal dismal pattern. They squandered their only other decent chance in the opening seconds when new boy Efan Ekoku, making his debut after his arrival on loan from Zurich Grasshoppers, narrowly failed to make contact with Cooke's cross in front of an open goal.

Thereafter they looked demoralised and Birmingham, despite displaying little of the urgency, creativity or penetration expected of a promotion-chasing side, assumed control.

Wednesday frequently pulled all their players back into their penalty area as they clung on desperately. Geoff Horsfield hit a post and Bryan Hughes, Dele Adebola and Martin O'Connor all wasted good chances to make their territorial advantage count.

"We dominated the first half against a very poor Wednesday side but our ineffectiveness up front cost us the game," said Francis. "Over 90 minutes they were bound to create one or two chances and Harkness's shot was unstoppable. It inspired them and they played the last 20 minutes with terrific spirit."

The Wednesday manager, Paul Jewell, who was involved in a scuffle with the Birmingham defender Martin Grainger when he appeared to kick the ball away to waste time, said, "getting the victory was important. It was probably going to take a great goal like that to turn things round for us, and it gave us the confidence you need to win games. Hopefully we can build on that."

Goal: Harkness (58) 1-0.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Westwood, Hendon, Walker, Humphreys (Sibon, 54); Cooke, Haslam, Harkness, Quinn; Ekoku, Morrison (Crane, 80). Substitutes not used: Stringer (gk), Lescott, Hamshaw.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Gill (Johnson, 67), Holdsworth, Johnson, Grainger; Eaden, Hughes, O'Connor, Lazaridis (Purse, 88); Horsfield (Marcelo, 45), Adebola. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Hyde.

Referee: W Burns (Scarborough)

Booking: Sheffield Wed: Harkness

Man of the match: Cooke

Attendance: 14, 695.

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