Whelan sets a captain's example

GLENN Whelan struck a stunning goal for Wednesday against his old club, Manchester City, and provided the highlight of the Owls' last major pre-season friendly.

It was an impressive way for the midfield player to mark his first Hillsborough game as captain.

Whelan, wearing the armband because Lee Bullen was injured, showed the same finishing prowesss that brought him that crucial, fine goal in the play-off final.

He smacked a 25-yard shot into the roof of the City net from 25 yards and put Wednesday ahead in the 38th minute.

City hit back in the second half of an evenly-fought encounter that attracted 12,796 fans and had them applauding politely at the end.

You don't get many thrills or much drama in friendlies, and this one was no different in that respect, but it was reasonably watchable and did give clues about the Owls' planning for when it really matters - the start of the Championship campaign.

Their line-up looked very much like the one that can be expected to start at Stoke next Saturday, depending on a few fitness considerations.

There were some steady performances in all areas and no-one had a bad game: the back four were solid, including newcomers John Hills and Graham Coughlan; Whelan was combative as well as clinical; wingers Chris Eagles and Chris Brunt had their moments.

City had played (and won 2-1) at Stoke on Saturday and fielded several youngsters rather than a full-strength side.

Whelan created the first chance after only 47 seconds.

He won the ball in the centre circle and played a neat ball in between the centre-backs; Lee Peacock clipped a low shot that the keeper saved with his legs.

An acrobatic volley into the Kop by 4 million central defender Sylvain Distin was City's first crack at goal. It was followed by a better one soon afterwards, with the Owls defence caught out and David Lucas having to advance quickly to the edge of his area to beat away a shot by right-winger Lee Croft.

This wasn't as a big as scare as one in the 13th minute when Steve MacLean went down heavily, obviously in pain, after a Distain challenge.

Boss Paul Sturrock, who has already lost Drew Talbot and Barry Corr from his strike force, watched anxiously as MacLean received treatment.

The Cardiff penalty-scorer limped to the touchline and then was able to carry on for six minutes but had to walk off and was replaced by Adam Proudlock.

There were 28 minutes on the clock when Wednesday mustered their next strike at goal: Peacock's shot from 25 yards sped past Geert De Vlieger's right-hand post.

The crowd rose to a purple patch from Eagles, in which he showed pace and neat feet in cutting in from the right, delivered a superb left-wing corner that nearly brought a goal for Richard Wood, and drove a volleyed cross into the box.

Fans also cheered a crunching tackle on the halfway line by Coughlan, which led the goal a few seconds.

After Coughlan's challenge knocked the ball free, Proudlock picked up possession and had a run at a goal and a shot that was blocked.

When the ball bounced back to him, the striker showed vision to touch a square pass to his right to Whelan, and the skipper's right foot hammered the ball home, with the aid of a slight deflection.

Eagles started the second half on the left wing - with Brunt switching to the right - but the new boy popped up in the centre-forward position to create a double opportunity.

His headed flick enabled Proudlock to carve out a shot that was well blocked by De Vlieger. The ball came out to Eagles, who was rushing in, and from near the penalty spot he knocked the chance wide. He knew he should have scored, and put his hands to his head.

Coughlan followed MacLean in making a premature exit: he walked off in the 54th minute with a back injury was replaced by Graeme Lee.

If Whelan's goal had been a Premiership-style strike, then so was the one that helped to put City level in the 61st minute: midfield man Willo Flood hit the post from long range, with Lucas springing at full stretch to his left; the rebound was planted into the roof of the net by Karl Bermingham.

Wednesday's wide men again showed up to good effect as an Eagles corner was flicked on by Peacock and forced keen defending; a Brunt cross had City in trouble and was hacked away by Danny Mills.

Both managers were reasonably satisfied with the contest though, of course, Sturrock regretted the new injury worries.

Sturrock, who awaits the results of a scan on MacLean's knee, and tests on Bullen's Achilles, said: "There were spells in the game that I was quite pleased with."

He also admitted that the Owls have scored fewer pre-season goals than he would have liked:

"We had a lot of chances. We created more (against City) than we have done in pre-season. I think it will take us a month and a bit to get us flowing,."