Football: Souness's respite

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The Independent Online
Liverpool. . . . . . . .1

Sheffield Wednesday. . .0

IT WAS rarely pretty or convincing, but the endeavour was unrelenting and ultimately Liverpool were rewarded with a win which eases the plight of their embattled manager Graeme Souness. It fell to Don Hutchison, one of the club's new generation, to claim the victory with his first League goal 10 minutes from the end.

Wednesday, whose problems continue, ran out of resistance and fortune and cannot dispute that Liverpool deservedly halted a sequence of three successive League defeats. The final whistle was greeted with celebrations on a scale more in keeping with greater days at this famous stadium, but for Souness the experience can rarely have been more gratifying.

Souness said: 'We've got to be grateful for the fact that we defended better. It was the first time this season we'd not conceded a goal,' he said afterwards. Wednesday's manager, Trevor Francis, added his vote of confidence: 'Liverpool deserved to win because they attacked with more purpose. I can only judge on what I saw today and I was impressed with Liverpool. Graeme will be OK.'

They have done their best in these parts to make a drama out of the Liverpool crisis and the atmosphere was heavy with anxiety. Many of those occupying The Kop yesterday have known nothing but success here. Suddenly, though, the record total of 18 League championships, the four European Cup triumphs and the mesmerising football belongs to another age.

The tension was evident in much of Liverpool's play. The passing was erratic, control unreliable, tackling occasionally reckless. Steve Nicol, restored to the heart of the defence, brought some order to a back-line which has been breached with ominous regularity this season. According to Souness, the only crisis is an injury crisis and even his fiercest detractors will concede that.

They will also argue, however, that he has bought, and sold, badly, and that the club no longer has the depth of quality to compete with the best.

Wednesday might be forgiven for being slightly bemused by all the fuss and analysis. They, too, are underperforming and their England goalkeeper, Chris Woods, was spared embarrassment after only four minutes when he failed to collect a high ball under pressure.

But Wednesday were thankful for Woods' reflexes when he made an excellent double save from Hutchison and Steve McManaman. Liverpool, lifted by the scent of goal, then produced a progressive spell in a tedious first half.

Full-back David Burrows launched a long-range shot which sped just beyond the far angle of crossbar and post. Mark Walters whipped the ball across the face of the goal, just ahead of Ian Rush.

Wednesday, who had Warhurst and Carlton Palmer booked either side of the interval, were under siege in the second half. It started with Rush, unchallenged, heading off-target, yet there was little assurance in Liverpool's waves of attack. Too many crosses were hit in hope, rather than belief.

Just when it seemed no one would find a way through, Liverpool had the slice of luck they craved. Walters' cross created the danger, and although McManaman's attempted header came to nothing, the ball broke for Hutchison. His shot was by no means clean, the ball digging into the ground, but, to Woods' anguish, it bounced over him and under his crossbar.

Liverpool: B Grobbelaar; M Marsh, D Burrows, S Nicol, T Piechnik, D Hutchison, S McManaman, P Stewart (R Rosenthal, 51 min), I Rush, J Redknapp, M Walters. Subs not used: N Tanner, D James (gk). Manager: G Souness.

Sheffield Wednesday: S Woods; J Harkes, N Worthington, C Palmer, P Shirtliff, V Anderson, R Nilsson, C Waddle, M Bright, C Bart-Williams (G Watson, 88 min), P Warhurst (G Hyde, 74 min). Subs not used: K Pressman (gk). Player- manager: T Francis.

Referee: M Bodenham (East Looe, Cornwall).

Goal: Hutchison (1-0, 80 min).