Rush in at the death for Liverpool

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Kovacevic 7 Liverpool 1 Rush 87 Attendance: 32,747
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ONE OF the attributes demanded of potential champions is to play badly yet gain a result. That summed up Liverpool's day at Hillsborough yesterday and, for those who believe in omens, the goal that saved their bacon came from the boot of Ian Rush, no stranger to the championship. There is still time to put a few quid on them.

The legend in the No 9 jersey appeared in the 79th minute to replace Rob Jones, who had spent the afternoon giving a flawless impersonation of an international right-back playing wide on the left wing.

Liverpool, whose passing game had almost degenerated into a curious form of pedantic lethargy, were revitalised and Steve McManaman's threatening runs started reaching the Wednesday penalty area.

Stan Collymore forced a superb save from Chris Woods, who stretched to push his sizzling volley over the bar. McManaman hit the goalkeeper from close range and Robbie Fowler made a complete hash of a Collymore left- wing cross that dropped perfectly on his foot at the far post.

The young striker made amends in the 87th minute by feeding Rush, whose eight-yard shot ricocheted off Des Walker to take a wicked deflection past a despairing Woods.

Liverpool had seemed to take the loss of a seventh-minute goal with misplaced equanimity. David Hirst's headed pass freed Ian Nolan, who cut past Jones to the goal-line before laying the chance on a plate for Darko Kovacevic. The Yugoslav gobbled it up, sweeping the ball beyond David James.

Except for a moment in the 40th minute when Rob Jones got on the end of McManaman's through-pass to clatter the foot of Wood's post, it was more or less all Wednesday. Kovacevic and Hirst were a constant problem for the visitors' central defenders, underlined when Neil Ruddock was booked for a foul on the Yugoslav in the 51st minute. Both strikers were immeasurably assisted in their labours by the running of Guy Whittingham, who almost got his just reward two minutes into the second half when he lofted a shot on to the Liverpool crossbar.

Perhaps Wednesday dropped too deep in that last 15 minutes to defend their lead against a Liverpool suddenly galvanised by the ticking of the clock. It did allow Liverpool's main threat - McManaman's meandering runs - to start a vital 10 or 15 yards deeper in enemy territory. Until the arrival of Rush, they seemed to have got away with it.

Before the frenzy of those dying minutes, the tempo of the game had been controlled by two of the Premiership's most distinguished thinking footballers, Chris Waddle and John Barnes. The response that Waddle's leadership drew from his strikers was the main difference between the sides for more than an hour. Fowler and Collymore still seemed some way short of a fruitful partnership, especially when confronted by a Des Walker, almost back to the brisk anticipation of his halcyon days, and the astute old head of the former Liverpool hero Steve Nicol. The resurrection of the Scot's career at the highest level in the British game may yet turn out to be one of manager David Pleat's most astute strokes.