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Nationwide Division One, 3/2/01
Sheffield Wednesday
By Matt Rowson

It's funny how things work out. How the subtlest twist of fortune can prompt a domino effect, a ripple of consequences that can avalanche to improbable conclusions. Stuart Pearce's shot, for example, for England late in the day against France in Euro 92. It crashed against the crossbar and rebounded into play...what if it had gone in? England through to the semi-finals, GT not pilloried by the national press. The resulting World Cup campaign would certainly have had a different air to it...would GT have resigned, would he have ended up back at Vicarage Road?

Alec guessing right at St. Andrews in May 1999. What if he hadn't? Would we have gone up the next season? Paul Butler's challenge on much has that moment affected Watford's destiny, let alone that of Gifton?

Then there's the Muppet who nicked Tsega's handbag in Redhill this lunchtime. In it, along with the usual personal effects, a season ticket for the trains purchased not four days ago. Consequences: Tsega and I don't get to see each other properly for a month; I go to Redhill and wander around until I find said Muppet and fill in his face with the business end of a shovel. I return to Bedford and wreak similar revenge on the lazy BR doughnut who couldn't be arsed to fill in a proper receipt for the season ticket, meaning that no evidence of its purchase exists and there will be no refund. I spend the next how ever many years inside and you don't get any more previews.

And, of course, the fixture list. Watford due to play Sheffield Wednesday at the Vic on September 2nd, international goings-on prompt a rearrangement to November 7th. This is Watford's eighth game in twenty-five days, including a battering by Gillingham, a run-around from Manchester United and two soggy, sapping encounters with Bolton and Wolves. The last thing we really needed was Wednesday and Tranmere, arguably the two most spartan sides in the division, within a week. We were already reeling; the sucker punch (and the kick when we were down) came at just the wrong time.

Wednesday's brief resurgence at around this time looked like restoring their season at least a suggestion of respectability. Since then, however, the Owls have slumped again. They've won once in eight league games, a 1-0 home victory over Grimsby, and are back in the relegation zone. Confidence is non-existent, the message board cud-chewers talk darkly of a second successive relegation. The fans' websites have, by and large, not been updated since early December, a dead giveaway. And, as happened to us in our darkest hours, local derbies suddenly take on a disproportionate level of importance.

In goal for Wednesday is likely to be the portly Kevin Pressman who returned from injury for the cup tie at the weekend. He took the place of the ineligible Marlon Beresford, on-loan from Middlesbrough. Seventeen-year-old Chris Stringer has also played games this season.

At the back, another youngster, Steve Haslam, is likely to feature, alongside the more experienced campaigners Des Walker and Ian Hendon. Australian Con Blatsis has impressed on-loan from Derby - one of a number of loanees this season, as Jewell exploits his limited resources to the full. Ashley Westwood is another option at the back, but he missed the cup game with an ankle injury. So too the thoroughly unpleasant Steve Harkness, who can also feature in midfield, and young Irish fullback Derek Geary. Andy Hinchcliffe, however, is out for the season having had an operation on an achilles problem.

Midfield is an area where Jewell clearly feels he needs to add experience; Ian Bishop appears to be resisting overtures from the Owls and from Barnsley to join MLS side/prog-rock group Miami Fusion, whilst Swede Magnus Kihlberg is on trial from Heidar Helguson's old side LillestrÝm. At the moment, however, the midfield consists of promising Irishman Alan Quinn, injury-prone Leigh Bromby and the pacy and versatile Aaron Lescott. Waiting in the wings are eighteen-year old Tony Crane, a scorer in Wednesday's win at the Vic, and winger Matt Hamshaw. The permanently injured Philip Scott and Simon Donnelly are, unsurprisingly, injured, but Wim Jonk could be in line for a first game since August following a groin problem.

Up front, Wednesday's options are narrowing all the time with Andy Booth's apparent departure to the pitiful Spurs on loan and the terminally sulky Gilles de Bilde apparently negotiating with a European Club. Probably Manchester City.

This leaves the rangy, unpredictable Gerald Sibon, the big Nigerian Efan Ekoku and another young Irishman Owen Morrison, unless Jewell manages to bring in more cover by the weekend.

In circumstances such as those in which Wednesday find themselves, you want players out there who are going to put up a fight, and whatever else they lack the Owls have fighters in abundance. They are also a young side, however - eight of the sixteen named against Southampton are twenty-two or under - and in bad need of a lift. Our turn to deal the sucker punch, perhaps. Meanwhile if you happen to know who nicked Tsega's handbag, tell him to start running....