Wednesday brought gently to earth

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Chelsea 2
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The Independent Online
Hillsborough was ringing to the Chelsea anthem "one man went to mow" although the noise might just as well have been bubbles bursting. The Sheffield public had come to dream and been confronted with reality.

Nobody really expected Wednesday's four-match flirt with perfection to lead to something tangible, but there is no crime in hoping. Before the game a group of men were singing "Wednesday, top of the League" while a woman had a sign pinned to her clothing with "champions elect" written on it. In all likelihood, empty wishes.

Wednesday remain top but such was the ease with which Chelsea dealt with them it is unlikely they will stay there. Certainly their manager, David Pleat, did not expect to. "The good thing about this is that it will suppress the expectations of people who don't really know about football on the periphery of the club," he said. "I'm disappointed, but there were bright things. You have to look at them on days like this."

Pleat has removed a lot of dead wood and accrued enthusiasm as well as youth by buying abroad and in the lower divisions. Wayne Collins, pounds 600,000 from Crewe, reminds the manager of Paul Ince, while Andy Booth's strength and work rate will disturb Premiership rearguards.

"It will get better," Pleat insisted before sending a coded barb to past personnel. "They are young players who will learn. They haven't been here eight years, played under three managers and seen it all before. This lot will come in on Monday and work at it."

Probably no-one more so that Dejan Stefanovic, whose error led to Chelsea's first goal but whose reputation is growing. When he first arrived at Hillsborough, the 21-year-old Yugoslav looked as hopelessly overawed as any displaced young man without a word of the language is entitled to be. You cannot imagine any English centre back making the transition so quickly yet Gianluca Vialli was given barely a kick.

A pity then that his one error should prove decisive. Instead of getting the ball away quickly, Stefanovic dwelt a fraction too long in the 28th minute and his clearance was charged down by Craig Burley. The Chelsea midfielder was exemplary all afternoon and faced merely by Kevin Pressman he invited the Wednesday goalkeeper to dive to his left while shooting to his right.

With that, apart from headers from Booth and David Hirst that the substitute goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock did well to save, Wednesday's ambition was denied the lack of someone producing the unexpected. Regi Blinker might have provided it; instead his influence diminished by the minute and it was no surprise when Burley set up Andy Myers for Chelsea's second.

Chelsea's injured player-manager, Ruud Gullit, had every reason to be content, particularly as Frank Leboeuf was not fully fit and several players were debilitated by colds. "I was pleased with the way the team defended," he said. "Even Vialli was chasing back. You can't always play beautiful football.

"It's nice to see how the team is playing, because it gives me the chance to take time getting back into the team. I'm in no hurry."

In a sense the Wednesday optimists had been right. They had come to watch a team who can make a serious attempt on prizes this season and they had seen one. Chelsea.

Goals: Burley (27) 0-1; Myers (82), 0-2.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Atherton, Walker, Stefanovic, Nolan; Whittingham (Oakes, 68), Collins (Trustfull, 79), Humpheys (Sheridan, 61), Blinker; Booth, Hirst. Substitutes not used: Nicol, M Clarke (gk).

Chelsea (5-3-2): Kharin (Hitchcock, 18); Petrescu, Johnsen, Leboeuf, S Clarke, Myers; Burley, Di Matteo, Wise; Vialli, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Spencer, Lee, Minto, Morris.

Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Blinker, Humphreys. Chelsea: Myers, Vialli.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Man of the match: Burley.

Attendance: 30,983.