Humphreys comes of age

Sheffield Wed 2 Humphreys 56, Whittingham 84 Aston Villa 1 Johnson 88 Attendance: 26,861

Ridiculous as it may sound, there was a striker on display at Hillsborough yesterday who not only cost his club nothing but was born up the road from the stadium. Ritchie Humphreys was making his sixth appearance for Sheffield Wednesday, only his second in the starting line- up and in the 56th minute scored with one of the sweetest left-foot volleys you could wish to see on a sunny afternoon in August.

The judgement was as pleasing as the execution. Humphreys was bounding his way into the area when a glancing header from Mark Pembridge arrived in his direction. The 18-year-old waited for it to reach a height to his liking, chose his spot delightfully and gave the Aston Villa goalkeeper Michael Oakes the sort of chance he could have done without on his debut, somewhere between slim and none.

The goal was just reward for player and team. Humphreys had been busy and determined throughout, which is probably as well considering the apprehension of the fellow alongside him, Andy Booth, who was perhaps betraying the sort of nerves that a pounds 2.5m transfer fee can induce.

Wednesday, however, belied the pre-season status of the sides. Villa might have had the clearer scoring opportunities in the first half but it was Wednesday who not only had more possession but were also more attractive with it. On both counts they were indebted to Regi Blinker, a dreadlocked Dutchman born in Surinam. Maybe not Ruud Gullit, but he was diligent, trustworthy and elegant.

It was Booth who had the first opportunity in the fifth minute, but his drive over the bar indicated his state of mind. Shortly after Dwight Yorke was foiled by Kevin Pressman's dive at his feet, Ian Taylor headed over and before half-time he turned Des Walker in the box.

The significance of their failure to capitalise was merely emphasised by the Humphreys goal. Wednesday might have increased their lead before Guy Whittingham's looping header seven minutes from time.

In the final minute Tommy Johnson pulled one back for Villa but by then Humphreys (whisper this quietly but he was brought up a Sheffield United supporter) had inflicted the damage which mattered and had been substituted, his job done. After the match, Wednesday's manager, David Pleat, naturally declared himself delighted with the home-grown teenager but also announced that he too is partial to exotic foreigners. Some time next week Wednesday will sign another Dutchman, Orlando Trustfull, for "under pounds 1m" from Feyernoord.

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