Kanchelskis causes Pleat's grief

Everton 2 Sheffield Wednesday 0
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The Independent Online
David Pleat may not be Ian Wright's favourite person, but it is difficult for the rest of us not to like him. Most of his peers would have walked into the Goodison press room and muttered some twaddle on the lines of: "Fought back well" or "loads of commitment". The Sheffield Wednesday manager was to the point, blunt and, wonders will never cease, honest.

"From full-back to the No 11 Everton were better than us," he said. "If you have headaches all over the field, you can't win a game. I can't think of anything clever to say about it."

You knew how he felt. Wednesday's performance was of the sort to make managers look for less stressful things to do - like being a tourist officer for the West Bank. To call them dreadful would be flattering.

Indeed, the greatest mystery afterwards was how Everton contrived to get only two goals. A score of 8-0 would have been a better reflection and 18-0 would have been feasible if the television statisticians' figures for the number of home chances were correct. You could forgive him for getting it wrong; the man must have had writer's cramp trying to keep track of the near misses.

The root of the problem was simple: a complete inability to cope with Andrei Kanchelskis. Everton kept the Russian winger upfield and every time a Wednesday attack petered out - believe me, you did not have to wait long - the ball would shoot out to the right flank.

Poor Ian Nolan should have had some support, but left to cope on his own, a Christian would have had more chance against the lions. The Wednesday full-back's fluorescent orange shirt did not help, but he began to resemble a road traffic cone placed in training for the Russian to skip round.

For Everton's inability to get a hatful, you could say ditto about Kanchelskis because he should have multiplied his one goal, a fierce 18th-minute shot that beat Kevin Pressman on the near post, many times.

"He could have got four or five," Joe Royle, his manager, agreed, "but with some players you would have to wait a month for them to create that number of chances."

Royle was at his perkiest on Saturday, happy to use the match as a weapon to beat criticism in a local newspaper. "We created a lot of chances for a team that is one-dimensional," he said. "The lads have been hurt by some of the things that have been said. It's nice to be able to stick two fingers up at our detractors."

But if anything was likely to bring a contented glow to the Everton manager, it is the thought of the years ahead watching Michael Branch. The 17-year- old had a marvellous match, causing almost as much devastation as Kanchelskis, and it was his run down the right wing and perceptive pass that allowed Graham Stuart to steal the match in the 60th minute.

"Those of us who watch a lot of reserve team football," Royle said with what was probably another dig, "have known about Michael for a long time. He's a special talent but you have to wait for the right time to use him. We saw how Alex Ferguson sheltered Ryan Giggs and we will do the same. You have to be aware of burn-out."

Which probably went through the minds of the Wednesday players as their manager upped the temperature of his invective afterwards. "We got lucky today," Pleat said, but another performance like that could lead to a season-shaping slaughter. The heady days at the top of the Premiership seem a long, long time ago.

Goals: Kanchelskis (17) 1-0; Stuart (59) 2-0.

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Barrett, Short, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe; Kanchelskis, Ebbrell, Parkinson, Speed; Stuart, Branch. Substitutes not used: Hottiger, Limpar, Jackson, Grant, Gerrard (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Atherton, Walker, Stefanovic, Nolan; Whittingham (Williams, 60), Nicol (Hyde, h-t), Trustfull, Blinker; Hirst (Humphreys, h-t), Booth. Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Newsome.

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).

Bookings: Everton Unsworth.

Man of the match: Kanchelskis.

Attendance: 34,160.

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