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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The Independent Online
A GOALLESS draw has rarely been regarded as a satisfactory result for the home side, but with just two minutes left of this lethargic end- of-season encounter, Wednesday looked more than happy to settle for one.

In fact, drawing blanks all round seemed to be their game plan, and not only because it would have given them the point that would finally banish the lingering threat of relegation they traditionally inflict on their supporters this time of year.

Equally significant was the blank they achieved in the referee's notebook, which means they are still on course for a place in Europe through the back door on a "fair play" ticket.

So when substitute Richard Cresswell, who had only been on the pitch eight minutes, rose out of the ruck in the Liverpool penalty area to thump home a header from Danny Sonner's corner it was a bonus they scarcely expected or deserved.

Liverpool had looked the better of two ordinary sides, despite the fact that, after their dramatic mid-week intervention in the title race, the only real significance this game had for them was the10th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, which was marked before the kick-off by a minute's silence led by the Bishop of Sheffield.

That Wednesday should be on the brink of a Uefa Cup place for playing fair is doubly ironic, given that the most conspicuous offence of the season was committed in a blue and white shirt by Paolo di Canio, there was a certain "after you Claude" air about their play that suggested the avoidance of red and yellow cards was as high on their agenda as scoring goals.

It was an approach that handed the early initiative to Liverpool, whose inability to convert their chances prompted their manager Gerard Houllier once more to rue the absence of his key strikers Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler..

Houllier's introduction of the Cameroonian Rigobert Song as a half-time substitute for Steve Gerrard, the only player to receive a yellow card, briefly gave Liverpool a sharper attacking dimension. He overlapped once or twice down the right to link up incisively with Steve McManaman, but the game had long looked destined to peter out in goal-less stalemate until Cresswell's intervention. It was his first goal since Wednesday manager Danny Wilson signed him from York City for pounds 1m.

Wilson said: "I'm relieved that we are mathematically safe. If we hadn't got a point today the last game of the season at Charlton would have been sticky. A draw might have been a fair result but these things even themselves out over the season."