Waddle's magic casts Leeds adrift

Sheffield Wednesday 6 Degryse 5, 25, Whittingham 18, Bright 67, Hirst 72, 86 Leeds United 2 Brolin 28, Wallace 86 Attendance: 24,573
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The Independent Online
THE two men from Belgrade watching from the grandstand must have been hugely impressed with their new team, who could hardly have made David Pleat's task - to in accommodate his new signings - more difficult. Before the match, the Hillsborough public address announcer was confidently predicting debuts for Darko Kovacevic and Dejan Stefanovic, pounds 4.5m-worth of imports from Red Star, against Southampton on Saturday. Do not bank on it.

Leeds, who suffered their heaviest defeat under Howard Wilkinson, actually held sway for large chunks of the contest, bizarre though that may sound. But, after taking the lead with virtually their first attack, Wednesday discovered it was to be an afternoon when everything went right. With Chris Waddle at his brilliant, innovative best, the Sheffield side, fielding five attackers, were simply irresistible.

"We played some fantastic football," Pleat said. "You have to work to score goals in the Premiership but some of those today should be put in a cabinet, on show for your kids to admire them."

Waddle, who was 35 last Thursday and looks more than ever as though he barely has sufficient energy to run, let alone kick, played a part in four of Wednesday's goals, giving a virtuoso performance of chips and flicks and unbridled inspiration.

It was, of course, by no means the first such exhibition from a player of rare natural gifts. With splendid support from the Belgian Marc Degryse, from David Hirst, Mark Bright and, before he was removed at half-time through injury, Guy Whittingham, he was at the heart of a team display as fulfilling as Pleat can have experienced.

The flood of goals began when Lee Briscoe's superbly placed cross created an unmissable opening for Degryse, continued when Waddle, Degryse and Hirst set up Whittingham for the second and rendered Leeds's cause hopeless when Waddle's chipped free-kick was hooked home by Degryse for Wednesday's third after only 25 minutes.

Tomas Brolin, who enjoyed a large slice of luck as Steve Nicol's clearance bounced in off his prostrate body, hit back immediately with his first goal for Leeds and raised the possibility, however slim, of a fight-back. But Bright, heading in off a post from Waddle's delicate cross, destroyed that notion before Degryse's brilliant feint and turn paved the way for Hirst to drill home the fifth, and the best, goal of Wednesday's burgeoning collection.

The substitute Rod Wallace blasted home a second for Leeds inside the last 10 minutes but another from Hirst restored the margin.

Wilkinson, experiencing his first defeat against Wednesday since he left Hillsborough for Leeds in 1988, blamed himself for selecting Gary Kelly and Tony Yeboah, both of whom showed the strains of midweek international duty. "That is the biggest defeat since I arrived," he said. "But I take full responsibility. I picked the team and I chose the tactics. We played like a team who could score six or seven goals and we defended like a team who could concede six or seven goals." Wilkinson remained philosophical despite his side's mid-table position. "Being in the position we are in the league is not success," he conceded. "But there are times in life that you come to a crossroads, and we reached one today." The unanswered question is: which way do Leeds go now?