Royle's men lost in space

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday 2

Pembridge 22, Hirst 50

Everton 1

Ferguson 63

Attendance: 24,175

There is talk of giving Kevin Keegan the freedom of Newcastle to brighten his retirement. Two Premiership sides awarded each other the freedom of Hillsborough yesterday and the wonder of it all was that a match that was free-flowing to a fault yielded only a modest three goals.

Wednesday were the FA Cup's top scorers last weekend with seven, but it is doubtful whether Grimsby could have given them as much latitude as Everton. Joe Royle, hindered by injuries, fielded a novel diamond formation which looked interesting in theory, but which in practice consisted largely of vacant space begging to be exploited.

Nobody did that with more relish than Mark Pembridge, who went close with two other efforts in the first half as well as putting his side ahead. There is no player in the division with a more determined shoot-on-sight philosophy than Pembridge, so when he was fouled on the edge of the penalty area by Richard Dunne there was never much doubt who would take the free kick. He blasted it through the wall and past Neville Southall.

It said everything for Wednesday's dominance that Kevin Pressman's one real save of the first half was from his own player, Guy Whittingham.

Even though Wednesday quickly went two up after the break, it was a different Everton in the second half. It was hardly a clinically taken Wednesday goal, Ritchie Humphreys and the substitute, David Hirst, both doing their best not to score before Hirst finally stuck it away.

The introduction of Michael Branch did much to revive Everton. Duncan Ferguson had already hit the bar with one thunderous header before Branch's clever pull-back allowed him to stoop and nod past Pressman. A similar piece of work by the lively Branch gave Ferguson another chance, this time steered just wide, and Pressman struggled in the final minute to hold a ground shot from Andrei Kanchelskis.

It was Wednesday, though, who continued to carve out chances almost at will, Hirst and Pembridge both going close twice in the last 20 minutes.

It was that sort of game; 6-5 would have been a truer reflection but, on a day when none of the teams above them won, Wednesday will happily settle for best out of three.