Derby Day At Fortress Hillsborough
Vital Sheffield Wednesday contributor Jeff Gold takes a look at the Hillsborough hoodoo - talking about the Owls' crushing defeat to Derby County...
"He always scores against us". The game was yet to begin and already Wednesday fans were finding reasons to be cheerful. A few minutes, and one spurned chance, later someone else agreed with a good deal more emphasis. "Always, always, always, always, always, always, always," he said.
So when the object of their anxiety, Derby County`s Steve Howard, popped up to score deep into injury time, it should not have come as a complete surprise. But it did. Partly this was because with fifteen minutes remaining Derby were a goal down, a man down and seemed to have little idea of the location of the opposition`s half, no matter their net. Mainly it was because Howard`s effort was not merely a consolation, not just an equaliser but was a barely credible winner.
For most of the afternoon there was little indication of the drama to come. The selection choices for Wednesday`s manager Paul Sturrock were, as usual, limited, but there was the welcome sight of three veterans of the treatment table managing to hobble as far as the bench. They were all strikers, good for keeping the current partnership of Marcus Tudgay and Deon Burton on their toes. That, combined with the 'always score against your previous club` rule, surely guaranteed a storming performance from the ex-Derby pair. So much for guarantees; both were subdued.
To be fair Tudgay was performing, if that`s not too strong a word, in a slightly withdrawn role out on the left. Chris Brunt was similarly employed on the right, leaving a solid central-midfield trio of O`Brien, Whelan and Lunt. To a large degree it worked, with Wednesday enjoying the better of the first half until Ryan Smith, Derby`s lively summer signing from Arsenal, decided to give Tommy Spurr some grief.
Spurr dealt with the problem in the old-fashioned way, clattering Smith after being beaten for the umptieth time. The cost to Spurr was a booking. The cost to Derby was greater, Smith limping off early in the second half. That left Wednesday to dominate possession without unduly troubling the keeper. Derby, without Smith, didn`t unduly trouble anyone.
Eventually, Sturrock reached for the rehabilitees, giving Steve MacLean half an hour to see if he could pick up another injury. It was an inspired substitution. Sort of. For, although MacLean wasn`t directly involved, Wednesday immediately notched.
A long throw-in arrived at the feet of Brunt who was eight yards out with his back to goal. Days passed, climates changed and the universe expanded sufficiently to accommodate the huge girth of the surprisingly sprightly South Stand linesman. Meanwhile, Brunt twisted this way and that, attempting to fashion an opening as hordes of hulking defenders descended on him with menace. Then, when all hope seemed lost, he turned, flashing a left-footed shot through the melee and into the bottom corner. Wednesday led 1-0 and a first home victory was in sight, a victory that seemed assured when Derby`s Giles Barnes was sent off for a lunge at Graham Coughlan.
Enter Paul Peschisolido. In what really was an inspired substitution, Derby`s ex-Sheffield United striker was introduced to a chorus of boos. His response was both eloquent and immediate. The Wednesday defence indulged in a spot of pinball, largely between themselves, before a deflected shot ballooned into the air right in front of goal. Everyone rose to meet it. This motley mass of straining humanity included, but was not limited to: all the players, substitutes and coaching staff from both sides; the officials; a passer-by who wandered onto the field of play by mistake and therefore bore an uncanny resemblance to Kenny Lunt; a spectator in a rather fetching pair of red boots (no, hang on, that really was Kenny Lunt) and Barney 'I am completely different to Ozzie, honest` Owl.
Everyone. Everyone, that is, with the notable exception of Peschisolido. And everyone missed, with the notable exception of Peschisolido, who simply waited for the ball to drop to his feet and despatched it into the net with a minimum of fuss.
At this point Wednesday`s performance became a comedy combination of all-out attack and barely concealed panic. Drew Talbot and Barry Corr were thrown into the fray alongside MacLean. Over the previous sixteen months those three had managed twenty-seven appearances between them and it showed. Together they formed a front line rustier than a Bramall Lane turnstile. They fashioned the odd scramble but, as we entered the fourth minute of injury-time, it looked as if Wednesday would have to settle for a draw.
Then a harmless hoof out of Derby`s defence found its way to Steve Howard in an area of seemingly little danger. Ah, Mr Howard, the cause of such early dread. We`d nearly forgotten he was with us, our fears clearly misplaced. But within a matter of seconds he had ambled past a couple of defenders and nailed a shot into a corner of the net that he had no business in finding. The stadium began to empty. He always scores against Wednesday.