HAIR neatly parted and black-rimmed spectacles precariously balanced on the bridge of his nose, Richard Cresswell resembled a trainee accountant than Sheffield United’s attacking dog of war.
But the vastly experienced striker, who cut an unremarkable figure during Sunday’s end-of-season awards ceremony at Bramall Lane, embodies the qualities Danny Wilson’s side must possess if they are to salvage their Championship dream.
Cresswell, attending the function only 24 hours after requiring a course of pain-killing injections to compete against Stevenage, might not have been able to inspire the victory United required to regain second-place in the League One table.
But, during a fearless 27-minute cameo, he embodied the determination and sheer-bloody mindedness this faltering team require at Exeter City and perhaps beyond to ensure 10 months’ worth of fine work does not go to waste.
“That just shows the type of character Cressy has,” Wilson told yesterday’s pre-match media briefing at Shirecliffe. “I honestly thought he had no chance and by that I mean for the rest of the season.
“But Cressy made it clear he wanted to play and I take my hat off to him for that commitment. As a manager, it’s exactly what you want to see and, if you are in the dressing room, it’s inspirational.”
Cresswell is a man of contrasts.
Softy spoken off the pitch and unerringly polite, he is a fearsome competitor on it. As one guest at United’s glitzy bash commented, a Neanderthal warrior in a navy blue suit.
“Believe it or not, Cressy actually wanted to play at MK Dons in the game before,” Wilson confirmed. “There was no way his shoulder would have coped but he did volunteer.”
Whether Cresswell, who is also nursing a broken nose and fractured hand, should have started against Stevenage remains open to debate.
Certainly the player himself appeared to indicate he was prepared to complete a full 90-minute shift when he discussed last Saturday’s events with the press
But, as every good corner will testify, sometimes fighters need saving from themselves.
Had Cresswell featured in Wilson’s first-choice 11 six days ago then it is conceivable tomorrow’s contest at St James’ Park could have been a match too far.
“We have to be sensible with the lads,” said Wilson. “If it’s dangerous for them or there’s a chance they might put themselves out for two, three or possibly four games then we can’t do it.
“But we spoke to Cressy before Stevenage and he told us he was okay to do it.
“More importantly, the medical staff thought he’d be able to get through. The injections he had definitely helped.”
James Beattie and Ryan Flynn, who, together with Cresswell, helped change the course of last weekend’s meeting with Gary Smith’s side, have also put themselves in line for prominent roles against Exeter.
Teams and ref
EXETER (possible): Pidgeley, Baldwin, Jones, Tully, Archibald-Henville, Noble, Sercombe, Bennett, Dunne, Nardiello, Gow.
UNITED (possible): Simonsen, Lowton, Maguire, Collins, Taylor, Williamson, Doyle, McDonald, Quinn, Cresswell, Beattie.
James Linington: Has issued seven red cards in 37 matches so far this term and averages 3.32 cautions per game since August. Took charge of Sheffield United’s defeat at Wycombe Wanderers in September when Matthew Lowton was booked.
One to watch
Daniel Nardiello is Exeter City’s leading scorer in League One this term. Has scored 11 in all competitions and enters tomorrow’s meeting with Sheffield United searching for his third in four games. Previously of Barnsley.
Sheffield United have won their last two outings at St James’ Park - in 1984 and 1982 - scoring five goals and conceding one in the process. However Exeter City drew 4-4 at Bramall Lane earlier this season.