21st April 1991
Rumbelows Cup Final
Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Manchester Utd
The League Cup gets underway this weekend in its latest guise as the Capital One Cup, or COC (how apt would it be to see John Terry lifting that particular piece of silverware come the end of February?), so what better way to mark that than with this thunderbolt that won the trophy for Sheffield Wednesday in 1991?
The Owls enjoyed a fine campaign in 1990/91, bouncing back to the top flight at the first attempt under Ron Atkinson’s guidance in addition to their Rumbelows Cup triumph (incidentally, they’re the last side from outside the top flight to win the competition). Their road to Wembley was far from easy either, as they eliminated three teams from the league above in Derby, Coventry, and Chelsea – who were crushed 5-1 on aggregate in the semis – before locking horns with Alex Ferguson’s team.
Make no mistake about it – the script called for a United win here. This was supposed to be the game in which the Red Devils announced their permanent return from the wilderness and made it clear that the previous season’s FA Cup win was no false dawn. While their league form in 1990/91 was distinctly average, they had been electric in the Rumbelows, despatching champions Liverpool 3-1 and blowing away champions-elect Arsenal 6-2 at Highbury with a hat trick from emerging wunderkind Lee Sharpe. A strong Leeds team were beaten in the semi finals and it seemed a foregone conclusion that Ince, Hughes, McClair and co would be successful against Atkinson’s second-tier dwellers.
Big Ron however, was a man with revenge on his mind after being sacked by United five years prior. Wednesday would match United every step of the way, the game’s only goal coming in the 37th minute, when Nigel Worthington whipped a free kick into the area which was headed away only as far as Sheridan, around 20 yards out. The Republic of Ireland international – born in Stretford and a boyhood Manchester City fan – came steaming in from nowhere to unleash an almighty effort that gave Les Sealey absolutely no chance whatsoever. The Mancunians would keep knocking on the door for the remainder of the game, but they were kept at bay by a fine rearguard action from the underdogs, and in particular by a superhuman performance from captain Nigel Pearson, imperious at centre back, who would walk off with the man of the match bubbly in addition to lifting the cup.
The scenes of jubilation after the final whistle went on for some time – unless you happened to be watching the game on Yorkshire Television (as, funnily enough, a lot of Wednesday fans unable to make the game had been). While other networks stayed with the celebrations for a full half hour, YTV opted to abruptly curtail their coverage in favour of ‘War of the Monster Trucks’. The bizarre decision rankled for years with Owls fans and would give birth to a Wednesday fanzine.
United would not miss a second chance to crown their season, shocking Barcelona in Rotterdam in the Cup Winners’ Cup final three weeks later. Wednesday would not get to play in Europe as reward for their Wembley win, however – the League Cup had yet to regain its European place post-Heysel. Nevertheless, it was the dawn of a golden age for the Owls. Trevor Francis would continue Big Ron’s work and lead the Yorkshiremen to third place the following season and a further two cup finals the season after that.
Sheridan was a key part of that side, as a cultured, goalscoring midfielder. At international level, he’s best remembered for scoring the Republic of Ireland’s 100th international goal (one almost identical to his Wembley rocket) and striking the bar in their famous USA ’94 win over Italy.
David Pleat’s arrival in the Hillsborough hotseat – and determination to dismantle the successful team that Francis had built – saw Sheridan’s influence wane. Washing up at Bolton, he helped the Trotters romp to promotion in 1997, and then drifted down the leagues before turning his hand to management. Sheridan has made a promising start as a lower league manager, even if his spell in charge of Oldham ended up quite literally going to the dogs.
Now in charge of Chesterfield, he made a winning return to Wembley last season with victory over another former Wednesday hero, Paolo Di Canio, and his Swindon charges in the Football League Trophy. The pinnacle of his career though, surely, is that screamer past Sealey in 1991. As Alan Partridge would say, he must have a foot like a traction engine…