Date: 4th July 2009 at 9:24pm
Written by:

David Pleat’s task at Hillsborough in the mid 90s was to build on the taste of the big time delivered by Trevor Francis and kickstart the club from mid-table – he came with a reputation for providing attractive footballing sides.

Owls fans will acknowledge this period as the start of a long decline and a permanently swinging managerial exit door, but Pleat’s first season in 1995/6 had one particular moment to savour.

His £1.6m acquisition of Belgian international Marc Degryse from Anderlecht seemed an astute buy (57 caps plus 22 international goals, Degryse had played in two World Cups) and a midfield lacking the departing Chris Bart-Williams (£2.5m to Forest) was bolstered by Mark Pembridge (£900k from Derby). Expectations were high as always, but it was a tough start to the season (then title contenders Newcastle and Liverpool, plus reigning champions Blackburn) and performances were mixed. Worryingly, in the 2-0 away defeat at Leeds at the end of September, The Guardian was to note ‘..Wednesday had committed the unforgivable sin of abandoning all hope.’

Little of note followed (a double over Coventry garnering much needed points) until the return Leeds fixture at Hillsborough on December 16th, which goes down as one of the legendary Owls performances – all that had gone before that season was consigned to history with the kind of free-flowing attacking display Pleat was hired to engineer.

Wednesday were a goal up after 5 minutes (Degryse heading in Lee Briscoe’s cross) and added the second on 18 minutes, Guy Whittingham ending a fine four man move. Degryse bagged another, finishing off a clever Waddle set piece. 25 minutes gone and it looked like a rout was on the cards, until an untidy effort from Sweden’s biggest export, Tomas Brolin, temporarily stopped the rot for Leeds.

United came out for the second half with renewed vigour, but Mark Bright’s header with 22 minutes gone was the game clincher. David Hirst’s late double, either side of a consolation for Rod Wallace, was vintage stuff in what was probably his last truly effective season for the Owls.

David Pleat must have felt like he’d turned a corner with only his fifth Wednesday victory in eighteen League games: ‘We got the breaks today,’ he said. ‘We worked very well for our goals and they were beauties; I mean, those goals go in the cabinet, where you can get them out and show them to your kids.’

Two new signings were in the offing and Pleat was wondering how he could fit them in to a team that could win 6-2. The hope was that they were the catalyst for a major revival – £2.5m striker Darko Kovacevic and £2m defender Dejan Stefanovic from Red Star Belgrade. ‘Ones that got away’, perhaps. Each man would play his best football only on leaving Wednesday, Kovacevic in particular becoming a massive success with Real Sociedad in La Liga. The Owls finished that season a disappointing 15th.

Petrescu had already been sold, Waddle was to go at the start of the subsequent campaign, the master in decline. Although a Carbone-driven squad would give the Owls a seventh place finish in 96/97, it was Pleat’s last hurrah. Inconsistency, defensive frailty and the destabilising effect of the mercurial Paolo Di Canio would cost him dear.

But Leeds heaviest defeat in seven years (at that time) was the sparkling highlight of David Pleat’s tenure as manager at Hillsborough.

Sheffield Wednesday: Pressman; Nolan, Atherton, Walker, Briscoe; Nicol; Degryse, Waddle, Whittingham (Hyde, h-t); Hirst, Bright. Substitutes not used: Sinton, Watts.

Goals: Degryse 2, Hirst 2, Whittingham, Bright

Leeds United: Lukic; Kelly (Wallace, h-t), Wetherall, Palmer, Jobson, Dorigo; Couzens, McAllister, Speed; Yeboah (Deane, 64), Brolin. Substitute not used: Worthington.

Goals: Brolin, Wallace.

Referee: R Hart (Darlington).

Attendance: 24,573