Pleat to the fore as Booth strikes

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Football

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Leicester City 1

Finding Sheffield Wednesday at the top of the Premiership is like discovering your neighbours have inherited a small windfall. They might be above themselves at the moment, but you suspect it is only a matter of time before normal circumstances prevail.

How long their riches will last is anyone's guess, but their lead is certain to exist into the weekend after they went five points clear at Hillsborough last night. Richie Humphreys and Andy Booth, with their third and second goals of the season, effectively put them in this happy position while Leicester's reply came from Steve Claridge.

"When you have been in management for a long time you are aware of the twin imposters,'' David Pleat, the Wednesday manager, said of the maximum haul from four games that has given his side their best start for 65 years. "There is always something around the corner but we can enjoy it for the moment.''

In his programme notes, Pleat conceded by inference that his team's appearance at the summit is something of a surprise. "We are neither embarrassed nor over-confident with our position," he wrote, making you wonder if Alex Ferguson would ever be so reticent. "At this present time we are level-headed and have a self-belief."

Level-headed they might be, but the composition of the side had been knocked off kilter by two changes to a team that had beaten Newcastle nine days previously, Mark Pembridge and Scott Oakes dropping out to make way for David Hirst and Booth.

Both incomers are strikers, underlining the positive change in character to a team that was pretty, but toothless, to the point of near-relegation, last season. To date there has been an edge to Wednesday, where it was lacking, and the man largely responsible for the sharpening is Humphreys.

The 18-year-old only got his chance to lead the line thanks to an injury to Hirst, and since has been outstanding. Pleat describes him as "one of the most unassuming and sensible youngsters" he has ever worked with, but if his feet are on the ground his imagination is obviously aimed much higher.

His goal, after 24 minutes last night, was a beauty. Collecting a loose ball in his own half he accelerated away from the chasing pack, and as Hirst peeled left, he profited from Julian Watts' and Spencer Prior's hesitation to reach the left of the Leicester area. Here his route looked blocked but, with a simply exquisite lob, he chipped the ball over Kasey Keller from 25 yards into the top corner.

It was a delightful strike and one that was almost matched by Claridge three minutes later. The Leicester striker did not have to do the running, that was done by others, but he still was faced by much the same angle as Humphreys. His response was more robust and just as effective, a fierce left-foot shot going over and beyond Kevin Pressman's dive.

Half-time parity was unjust to Wednesday, who had a penalty claim turned down when Simon Grayson appeared to handle and who almost scored with Booth's volley just before the interval. They felt aggrieved. However, they soon remedied the situation.

The contribution of Booth, a pounds 2.65m buy from Huddersfield Town in the close season, has been largely overlooked in the enthusiastic applause aimed at Humphreys but he has settled both to the Premiership and new colleagues with sufficient ease to suggest he will not be overawed.

Certainly there was a quality about his 51st minute goal that more seasoned scorers had been delighted with. Ian Nolan hooked a long un-Pleat-like pass down the left and Booth spun into the space behind Prior. With one touch he controlled the ball and with the next he stretched out with his right leg to beat Keller.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman, Atherton, Walker, Stefanovic, Nolan; Whittingham, Collins, Humphreys (Sheridan, 65), Blinker; Booth, Hirst (Bright, 76). Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Nicol, Oakes.

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Prior, Watts (Marshall, 70), Walsh; Grayson, Izzet, Taylor (Parker, 70), Lennon, Whitlow; Claridge, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Robins, Lawrence.

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

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