Commentary: Marsden makes point to spoil Luton's perfect start

Sheffield Wednesday 0 - Luton Town 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Some clubs fire up their fans by slipping "Simply the Best" or "We Will Rock You" on to the turntable as kick-off approaches. Others, perhaps in a wry nod to the financial pitfalls of the modern game, go for "The Liquidator". Sheffield Wednesday's choice of "Hi Ho Silver Lining" seems especially apt, for the Hillsborough faithful have had to develop the ability to spot a silver lining in a mushroom cloud.

Some clubs fire up their fans by slipping "Simply the Best" or "We Will Rock You" on to the turntable as kick-off approaches. Others, perhaps in a wry nod to the financial pitfalls of the modern game, go for "The Liquidator". Sheffield Wednesday's choice of "Hi Ho Silver Lining" seems especially apt, for the Hillsborough faithful have had to develop the ability to spot a silver lining in a mushroom cloud.

Wednesday were officially England's third best side in the final pre-Premiership season of 1991-92, when, incidentally, Luton Town lost their place among the élite. Seven years ago Wednesday came seventh in the rebranded top flight, dropping out only in 2000. A further relegation meant that supporters accustomed to trips to Old Trafford and Highbury found themselves travelling to Rushden & Diamonds and Wycombe Wanderers, in whose company they could finish only 16th last May.

Meanwhile, the debts mounted and the main interest in buying control has come from Ken Bates, who, not entirely convincingly to many Wednesdayites, professes an affection for the Owls from their tussles with Chelsea when he was chairman there.

At most clubs, such a combination of circumstances would create a mood of desperation or militancy. Yet when the Wednesday players left the pitch following a second home draw in six days, they received a standing ovation.

The resilience of the Hillsborough crowd, not to mention their numbers (the aggregate from four games is nearly 93,000), owes much to a deep-rooted affinity between club and community.

Saturday was the 137th anniversary of the day the Wednesday Cricket Club members convened in the Adelphi Hotel to form a section to keep them entertained during the winter. Wednesday, moreover, won the Football League and FA Cup twice each before Leeds United, now universally regarded as Yorkshire's biggest club despite their current plight, were even formed.

The applause was an acknowledgement, argued Wednesday's manager, the former Manchester United goalkeeper Chris Turner, that they are "improving all the time". It was also recognition of the fact that they had ended the League One leaders' 100 per cent start at the seventh attempt, as well as an implicit tribute to Luton's best start in a 119-year history.

Mike Newell, the Luton manager and former Blackburn Rovers and Everton striker, had succeeded Turner at Hartlepool United, yet the grapevine claimed there was no love lost between them. Whatever the truth, their sides were evenly matched, slugging out a fiercely competitive stalemate which gave both camps cause for satisfaction and regret.

A revamped Wednesday - only Chris Brunt among the 14 players used was involved when they lost at Luton in May - were splendidly led by Chris Marsden. Southampton's FA Cup final captain of last year, Marsden was a Hillsborough Kopite as a boy and played with his heart as well as the armband on his sleeve.

Midway through the first half, his cleverly chipped cross was chested down by Lee Peacock, who spun to volley against a post. Wednesday, for all their endeavour and two chances wasted by Steve MacLean, never came as close again. Luton, however, endured an astonishing miss by Steve Howard a minute after half-time. Eight yards out, he snatched at the ball and somehow contrived to hit it across goal for a throw-in.

Turner tried to sign Howard, another whose cv includes Hartlepool, for £300,000 in July. The North-easterner scored in Luton's first five matches, so it reflected well on Wednesday's new central-defensive duo, the experienced Scot, Lee Bullen, and a 19-year-old, Richard Wood, when Newell admitted it was Howard's "quietest game so far".

The Merseysider added: "We're not happy with a point, but we'll take it. The fact that we haven't been beaten is the important thing. I didn't want our run to end that way.

"The lads have done superbly and got in a position where they should start believing in themselves. But we need to avoid injuries and suspensions because we don't have the resources."

How good were Wednesday? "We deserved to win the first six," Newell. said "No one we beat could dispute that. But if we'd won that, they could have argued with it. They've got strength and attacking options."

According to Howard, who would have enhanced those options, Wednesday have other things going for them. No, not the chequebook or "affection" of Mr Bates, but their charisma and support. "I was packing my bags in the summer - I thought I was coming here," the striker said. "Then the gaffer said: 'You're going nowhere'. That was that. I'm happy where I am, but it's always an attractive move to come to a massive club like this. It must be fantastic to play in front of a crowd like that. It's a big pulling point for Sheffield Wednesday."

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Lucas; Collins, Bullen, Wood, Heckingbotham; Proudlock, McGovern, Marsden, Brunt (Smith, 90); MacLean, Peacock (Ndumbu-Nsungu, 90). Substitutes not used: Tidman (gk), Shaw, Carr.

Luton Town (4-4-2): Beresford; Keane, Davies, Coyne, Davis; Brkovic, Nicholls, Robinson, Underwood; Howard, Vine. Substitutes not used: Seremet (gk), Leary, O'Leary, Showumni, Barnett.

Referee: C Boyeson (East Yorkshire).

Booked: Sheffield Wednesday: Marsden. Luton: Brkovic, Vine.

Man of the match: Marsden.

Attendance: 20,806.

Comments