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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 26/10/02, 3pm
Sheffield Wednesday
The wild man of the hills
By Matt Rowson

Poor Sven. The tabloids are barely through their stretching exercises and he already looks world-weary and beaten. He's not the first of course. Sky Sports last week launched yet another economical rehash of old footage, kicking off the series with a look at the 1995-96 season. Kevin Keegan's wild-eyed "I would love it if we beat them!" monologue featured heavily in trailers. He looked a young man... dark-haired and fiery. Look what England did to him. GT, of course, also suffered... perhaps the only two of recent years to escape were Venables, who wasn't there long enough, and Hoddle, whose impenetrable conceit is as robust as chainmail.

So if the degree to which a manager's demeanour appears to change during his tenure can be regarded as a barometer of the stress that goes with a job, it's hardly surprising that Wednesday boss Terry Yorath increasingly resembles the wild man of the hills. There can be few positions in English football where such very limited scope exists to attain a recent standard so very far above what is currently being attained.

Which is the issue, of course. As recently as four years ago the Owls were a solid enough Premiership side. Now they're struggling at the foot of Division One, a position they've held for the past three seasons, saddled by huge debts which are rumoured to be seeing them into administration as soon as the end of this week. The only thing solid about Wednesday at the moment is the rumbustuousness of their play in front of the echoing half-filled Hillsborough caverns. A thoroughly depressing place, to the extent that even Colin Hendry, who has never been on the Owls' books, was erroneously reported in the press to have left the club last week.

And after a run that has been poor even by recent standards, the knives are out for Yorath. Recent performances, it is reported, have deserved more than they've got... but with the victory in the Yorkshire derby against Bradford the first win in nine and only the second of the season, a lot of patience is being demanded. Too much for one particular Owls site, whose news/article headline list includes in close and recent proximity items entitled "Time for Terry Bye-Byes ?", "Last Chance Saloon for Yorath ?", "Another Nail in Yorath's Coffin ?", "Reid voted as most wanted Owls boss" and as if doubt remained, "Sack Yorath NOW!".

In goal for Wednesday will be Kevin Pressman, presumably because nobody's wheeled him out yet. Chris Stringer is the young deputy.

The versatile Steve Haslam should play at right-back with Irish Player of the Year Derek Geary on the left in the absence of David Burrows, out with a hairline fracture to his collarbone. Haslam's most obvious deputy is journeyman Ian Hendon, whilst Jon Beswetherick, signed from Plymouth in the summer, can also play on the left.

Injuries have left Wednesday short in the centre, with Ashley Westwood (groin) and the enormous Tony Crane (hamstring) both out. This should leave Danny Maddix, sent off for two bookings against Bradford at the weekend, to partner the promising Leigh Bromby.

In midfield, a lack of creativity is widely considered to be a problem, exacerbated by the fact that the unpredictable Sibon and Scot Simon Donnelly, two of the more creative players, are high earners out of contract and presumably out of Sheffield in the summer. Given this, it's perhaps strange that Yorath has focused his attempts to recruit loan signings on more gritty options, David Batty and Steve Stone being the two names widely mentioned.

Donnelly should be partnered in the centre by 35-year-old skipper Trond Egil Soltvedt. Irishman Alan Quinn should play on the left with Leon Knight, a year-long loan signing from Chelsea, on the right. Ex-Luton man Paul McLaren is another option in the centre, one of few to have impressed so far this season; former Hornet Craig Armstrong can plough his anonymous furrow anywhere in the midfield. Winger Matt Hamshaw, scorer of a memorable goal in our Worthington Cup defeat last season, has been on the bench but Phil O'Donnell is injured, as has been the case for most of the last three years.

Up front, Sibon should play alongside Kosovan Shefki Kuqi, who could have been hewn from a block of granite. Former Brentford striker Lloyd Owusu is another possibility, but Michele di Piedi is on loan at Odd Grenland of all places.

Looking at our fixture list, you'd have to say that our fixtures begin to look a bit tougher again after Saturday, all the more reason for us to value three points here. That that tougher set of games features a trip to Rotherham, South Yorkshire rivals who were three divisions shy of Wednesday three years ago, captures how far the Owls have fallen.