Where's Di Canio?
Report by Ian Grant
So, erm, yeah. It's twenty past eight in the morning and I haven't gone to bed yet.
Rock 'n' roll!
Or perhaps not. At this precise moment, my brain is crawling to a standstill, my stomach
is still trying to work out why I was feeding it Quorn sandwiches at four o'clock in the
morning and my eyes just want to go shutty-bye-byes. Hell, you can question my
sanity but you can't...erm...cough...er...actually, you can just question my sanity...
Was it worth it? Oh, yeah. Di Canio's sending off, one of the most senseless and utterly dick-witted
acts I've seen a footballer commit, was a comedy moment of epic proportions and well
worth the journey. That we failed to overcome our recent failings to win the tie seems
to matter a little less than it might've when we have that memory to take away from
That said, I'd love to have won this game. I've no special animosity towards Wednesday, yet
the bombast that currently fills Premiership grounds - I mean, they had three fancy-dress
mascots, fer crying out loud - just riles someone who believes that football is simple and
simplicity is beautiful. Apart from the view-obscuring posts, Hillsborough is a wonderful,
lived-in ground that looms out of the darkness like some magnificent medieval castle.
That should be enough.
It certainly seemed to be enough to intimidate us in the early stages. We appeared
nervous, edgy - indeed, there was one occasion when Gifton Noel-Williams appeared to hesitate
and check his stride when he realised that he was about to take on the Des Walker. The
first fifteen minutes saw Steve Palmer deny Di Canio with a superb tackle (the first of many)
as the Italian broke, before Paul Robinson had to employ similar emergency measures
to get in the way of a close-range effort from Booth.
We were very much up against it until Di Canio decided to do us an almighty favour. As he battled with
Palmer by the corner flag, the ball went out for a throw and clearly hit the Wednesday
player's boot before it crossed the touch-line. Incensed by the linesman's decision,
Di Canio confronted the official, shouting and gesturing (on TV, it looks like a very
commendable attempt at a Mick Jagger impression) enough for the referee to be called over. The
production of a yellow card only served to transfer the Italian's wrath onto the referee, who
found himself on the receiving end of even more shouting and gesturing and had no choice, faced with
someone screaming at him from about two inches away, but to send the silly bugger off. As he
left the pitch, there was even more shouting and gesturing as other Wednesday players
pointed out that they'd really rather he'd just let it lie.
The whole fiasco was hysterical. In all senses of the word. It was clearly our throw-in - and even if
it hadn't been, a throw-in by the corner flag is hardly something to declare World War
Three over. Kevin Keegan's extraordinary post-highlights comment that the referee should make allowances
for the fact that Di Canio's Italian (you what?!?) aren't really enough to convince me
that he could've done anything else but show the red card.
We'd been tentative before that, Wednesday had been bossing the game. Suddenly, however,
we realised that we were in with a real chance of victory. Within a couple of minutes,
Robinson had our best chance of the first ninety minutes, firing a shot across goal and
inches wide. We believed in ourselves.
But ten Premiership players still present a fairly formidable obstacle. As in the first
game, Wednesday created first half chances and missed them - Newsome was perhaps most guilty, tamely heading
wide when unmarked from a free kick routine that had produced an identical miss at Vicarage Road. Later on, Booth
was foiled by Robinson once more.
All our excellent defensive work was nearly blown apart by one howling error from
Richard Johnson, however. Picking up the ball from Alec Chamberlain, he was the last line
of defence and yet scuffed an awful pass straight to a Wednesday player. From the resulting break,
Graham Hyde struck a shot that beat Chamberlain and rebounded out from the foot of the post. With the
Watford keeper stranded, Booth's follow-up shot smacked against the crossbar and somehow we
The second half was never so dramatic. The missing man started to tell, both in terms
of physical numbers and the absence of one of Wednesday's most influential players. Apart from another
shot from Booth that Chamberlain saved with relative ease, we were never particularly
troubled. Mind you, had Palmer's challenge on Rudi been given as a penalty - which it
probably was - the lack of Wednesday openings might not have mattered.
For our part, we grew in stature as the half continued. Having successfully dealt
with the threat from the Wednesday forwards, we huffed and puffed in an attempt to create
some chances of our own. But it's just not happening at the moment - generally speaking and
forgetting the odd lapse into hoof-and-hope, we continue to do the right things without
ever getting much of a reward. It was very difficult to see how we were going to score and,
despite some promising play as normal time neared its end, the single opportunity we conjured up
saw Robinson's driven shot blocked by a defender.
And so to extra time, in which, as if by magic, we suddenly had a proper game of football on
our hands with two sides capable of scoring and action at both ends of the pitch. Wednesday's
tiring legs and the injection of fresh energy from Dai Thomas finally saw the away side looking dangerous.
Jason Lee came closest, hitting the underside of the bar with a hooked volley that bounced down on the line before it was cleared.
Lee was played through shortly afterwards and foiled by the advancing Pressman. Thomas wasn't far away either, his
best effort being a fierce shot from inside the area that fizzed just over.
It was far from one-sided, though. For the first time in the game, Alec Chamberlain
had real saves to make. Booth broke the offside trap and seemed certain to score, only
to see his indecisive effort stopped by the out-stretched hand of the Watford keeper. Then
Chamberlain had to change direction to get in the way of a well-struck, deflected free
With the thought of penalties dwarfing everything, the second period of extra time
offered just one moment worth recalling. It was also the best Watford move of the match,
Johnson feeding Hyde who swept an absolutely glorious pass behind the Wednesday defence and into the path of Thomas. Kennedy received
the lay-off but his first touch forced him to snatch at a volley which just cleared the
I was dreading the thought of the shoot-out - but the reality turned out to be rather less
stressful. There seemed to be a certain inevitability about the whole thing, from the
home fans' intimidating racket (that's a compliment, by the way) to the Wednesday players' highly
professional finishes. For the record, Jason Lee, Peter Kennedy and Richard Johnson scored but
Micah Hyde, Watford's second penalty taker, had a mediocre spot-kick saved by Pressman.
No great change from the recent pattern, then. Our defence was largely wondrous, our
midfield generally strong and industrious, our attack isolated and out of sorts. While penalties
are a lottery, I don't think there's too much doubt that Wednesday were marginally the
better side over the two games - we ran them mighty close and we'd have run them closer still
earlier in the season.
Right, I'm off for another cup of coffee...