Pembridge enjoys freedom

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Everton 1
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The Independent Online
It is a strange old Saturday in the Premiership when Wednesday are the highest-placed side to win. Fittingly, that victory came at the end of a thoroughly peculiar match.

David Pleat and Joe Royle strolled along to the after-match press conference together. Such was the nature of the game that it was not difficult to imagine them having a little chat before the game and striking a pact not to try too hard to hinder each other's attacking intentions in midfield.

The result was a spectacle that was richly entertaining, but somehow unreal. Wednesday enjoyed the laissez-faire policy in the first half, while both sides ran riot in a stirring second.

The home side owed much of its freedom to the line-up that Royle fielded. Without a defensive midfielder to hold the side together, he experimented with a diamond formation that featured Paul Rideout playing just in front of the back four.

The diamond sparkled more in the second half, when Tony Grant came on, but the Everton geometry was generally lop-sided, with too many square pegs in round holes.

Wednesday, with a run of 12 matches since their last defeat, were full of sweeping moves and swashbuckling attack. Richie Humphreys and, in the second half, David Hirst were a constant handful, but the key man in their current success is Mark Pembridge.

He had a ball on the left side of midfield, scoring Wednesday's first goal from a free-kick, sending Hirst away for the second and going close to scoring another goal himself on four occasions.

He is gaining a reputation for peppering the goal from all distances and angles, so it is understandable that opposing teams should be growing increasingly jumpy in his presence.

The Everton player who made Sheffield fret and fidget was another substitute, Michael Branch, an 18-year-old who, like his contemporary, Richard Dunne, will play in the youth team this week.

Despite his tender years, Branch already has the presence to influence a senior match. His sharp, clever play produced one goal for Duncan Ferguson, who seems to relish playing alongside him, and could have given him the equaliser.

Goals: Pembridge (22) 1-0; Hirst (50) 2-0; Ferguson (63) 2-1.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-1-3-2): Pressman; Nicol, Walker, Stefanovic, Nolan; Atherton; Whittingham, Hyde, Pembridge; Humphreys, Booth (Hirst, h-t). Substitutes not used: Blinker, Clarke (gk), Collins, Trustfull.

Everton (4-1-2-1-2): Southall; Barrett, Watson, Dunne (Unsworth, 62), Phelan (Branch, h-t); Rideout (Grant, 50); Stuart, Speed; Barmby; Kanchelskis, Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Limpar, Gerrard (gk)

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street). Booking: Sheffield Wedneday: Hyde, Watson.

Man of the match: Pembridge. Attendance: 21,154.