Blast From The Past - 1998
Mid-November, and the beleaguered Owls manager Danny Wilson must have looked at the fixture list in dismay.
Put out of the League Cup in September by Cambridge United, still suffering from the ructions over the Di Canio/Allcock incident with no win in the six games since that fateful day. There was no relief in sight: next up was a home tie against high-flying Manchester United.
In his programme notes, Wilson may have been preaching that Wednesday were unlucky but they couldn't buy a goal at that point in the season. All that was to change. Maybe it was luck, maybe United had one eye on an upcoming Champions League clash with Spanish giants Barcelona, but they were to leave Hillsborough distraught. Of the 36 games Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke started in tandem that season, banging in 53 goals between them, this was the only one Manchester United lost.
The catalyst for an unlikely win was one of Wednesday's favourite Swedes, Niclas Alexandersson. A £750k signing from IFK Gothenburg, he brightened up the team with classy commitment and no little skill. This was perhaps his most memorable game in blue and white.
Wednesday started the brighter, pressing United and very much on the front foot. The match-turning incident was an uncharacteristic Peter Schmeichel fluff on the quarter-hour - Alexandersson's 20 yard pot-shot prompting a spot of juggling from the big Danish keeper who ended up in the net. Unfortunately for him, so did the ball.
United struck back in fine style, Cole rounding Srnicek following an incisive pass from Yorke to slide the ball home on the half hour to further embarrass England boss Glenn Hoddle with his eighth of the season (Hoddle had openly doubted Cole's abilities and left him out of the World Cup squad for 1998).
Referee David Elleray then infuriated the travelling support by turning down a penalty appeal, Irwin tangling with the ubiquitous Alexandersson, but the man in black waved away the protesting United players. The end of the half saw the Reds' best spell of the match. Yorke and Cole got in each other's way for the same cross, and both were ignored a few moments later by a rampaging Jaap Stam, who chose to shoot when a pass to a striker may have been the better option. However. Srnicek was equal to the big defender's 20 yard drive. Scholes then handled the ball into the net and was booked for his troubles, and maybe Wednesday were fortunate to go in at the break all square.
No real change until the 55th minute, when the game finally swung Wednesday's way as Wim Jonk's first goal for the Owls lit up Hillsborough. Sonner fed Alexandersson out wide, who supplied a first time cross pinpointing Andy Booth, who was unfortunate to see Schmeichel pull off a point-blank save. The rebound however fell kindly to Jonk who rammed home from six yards to start the celebrations.
In the 73rd minute, the Owls made the game safe when who else but Niclas Alexandersson charged down an attempted Stam clearance, rounded Schmeichel and sealed the three points for Wednesday.
Alex Ferguson admitted: 'That was a poor performance from us today. We were unrecognisable. We were giving the ball away in the first half and that gave them plenty of encouragement. Sheffield Wednesday deserve their victory. Although we grabbed an equaliser and improved slightly after that, once the second goal went in it was down hill from then on.. there were mistakes everywhere and only Jaap Stam performed to the standards you expect of a Manchester player.'
A relieved Danny Wilson acknowledged Wednesday's luck when the ball ran kindly for the second half goals: 'We worked hard for this result today. We took the game to Manchester United and we had that rub of the green which has been lacking over the last month, but we earned it. Hopefully, we will grow in confidence from this performance, particularly as we've a massive game against Chelsea next week in which we don't want all our hard work to come unstuck.'
Understandably he was delighted with Wednesday's Swedish international - 'Niclas is a shy, quiet, unassuming lad, but he is terrific to work with. He's a fantastic pro and he fully deserved both of his goals today.'
Sheffield Wednesday: Srnicek, Atherton, Walker, Thome, Hinchcliffe, Rudi, Sonner, Jonk, Alexandersson, Carbone, Booth.
Subs not used: Clarke, Sanetti, Humphreys, Stefanovic, Magilton.
Manchester United: Schmeichel, Neville, Stam, Keane (Solskjaer 83), Irwin (Brown 66), Beckham, Neville, Scholes, Blomqvist (Butt 58), Cole, Yorke.
Subs not used: Van Der Gouw, Berg.
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