Football: Cresswell arrives with a clear head

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Cresswell 87 Liverpool 0 Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 27,383
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JUST WHEN Wednesday looked happy to settle for the goalless draw that would have given them the point they needed to banish the lingering fear of relegation they traditionally inflict on their supporters, substitute Richard Cresswell won them all three with an 88th minute header from Danny Sonner's corner - his first goal since his pounds 1million signing from York City

After their dramatic mid-week intervention in the title race, the only significance to Liverpool in this fixture was the 10th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, which was marked before the kick-off by a minute's silence led by the Bishop of Sheffield.

But Wednesday were still fighting on two fronts - for the points they needed to guarantee survival and paradoxically, for a place in Europe. That they, rather than one of the league's more successful clubs, should be on the brink of a Uefa Cup place via the back door of a "fair play" ticket is doubly ironic given that the most conspicuous offence of the season was committed in a Wednesday shirt by Paolo Di Canio.

Not surprisingly, there was a certain "after you, Claude" air about their play that suggested that the avoidance of red or yellow cards was as high on their agenda as the scoring of goals.

Liverpool had no such inhibitions, and Steve Gerrard was booked after only four minutes for a body check on Wednesday's current Italian striker and potentially greatest disciplinary risk, Benito Carbone.

But Liverpool's commitment was also reflected in an early dominance which kept Wednesday goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek busy. He smothered Oyvind Leonhardson's shot after the midfielder had dribbled to the by-line, and then got his body behind Patrick Berger's fierce drive on the edge of the box.

And when the same two players combined to create another opening, Berger lifted Leonhardson's cross over the bar.

It was midway through the first half before Wednesday troubled Brad Friedel in the Liverpool goal. Patter Rudi, in a carbon copy of Leonhardson's effort, shot straight at the goalkeeper from a tight angle when a ball laid back to one of his colleagues might have paid greater dividends.

As Wednesday came more into the game their greatest threat came down the right, full-back Peter Atherton overlapping dangerously to deliver a series of crosses. Andy Booth's diving header almost made contact with one of them, and Rudi scooped another over the bar from just six yards out.

Despite their greater share of possession, Liverpool's lone striker Karl Heinz Riedle often looked a lonely figure up front as their five-man midfield tried to pass the ball into the net rather than deliver the incisive ball he sought. Their best opportunities late in the first half came from Berger's corners, Paul Ince heading narrowly over and Wednesday's centre-back Des Walker blocking a goal-bound Steve Staunton header.

But it was Wednesday who should have gone in with a half-time lead. Carbone raced clear and with only Freidel to beat shot straight at the goalkeeper and failed to convert a second chance from the rebound.

Gerrard Houllier brought on Rigobert Song for Gerrard and the Cameroon full-back immediately made an impact at both ends of the pitch, winning Liverpool a corner with an overlapping run and immediately afterwards almost diverting a Carbone cross into his own goal.

But these were brief glimmers of excitement in a match which showed more than a hint of end-of-season lethargy broken only by shots by Wim Jonk and Carbone which grazed the Liverpool crossbar.