Derby accept late present

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The Independent Online
LUTHER BLISSETT, the Watford coach, was certainly not at a loss for words after his side, bottom of the Endsleigh First Division, gave the leaders, Derby County, a severe jolt at the Baseball Ground. The once rampant Rams needed a controversial late penalty to salvage a point in their push for promotion.

Trailing to Colin Foster's 23rd-minute header from Gary Porter's corner, County struggled to come to terms with the muddy pitch. The Hornets held firm until six minutes from time when Derby centre-back Dean Yates burst into their penalty area and fell under Robert Page's challenge. Referee Clive Wilkes pointed to the penalty spot and Paul Simpson scored, very coolly in the circumstances.

"I am very dismayed with the decision," Blissett said. "From where I was sitting it was one of the cleanest tackles of the game. Derby had hardly threatened to equalise. I told the ref at the end that he had cost us two valuable points. I think it was blatantly obvious it wasn't a penalty." Even the Derby manager, Jim Smith, agreed. "It was never a penalty. We deserved one earlier . . . but it's swings and roundabouts."

Watford had five players booked, Derby none. "You expect officials to do the right thing by both teams," Blissett added. "This game was going to be hard enough beforehand without every decision going in their favour." The Rams' failure to beat the Herts side means that Sunderland can go top with a game in hand if they beat Birmingham at St Andrews this afternoon.

Third-placed Crystal Palace's late charge on the automatic promotion place continued with a win at Grimsby, which was rather more comprehensive than the 2-0 scoreline suggests. After 26 minutes, George Ndah outpaced the Mariners defence in a 40-yard run and slipped the ball past the goalkeeper Paul Crichton. Dean Gordon beat Crichton with a deflected free-kick 20 minutes from the end.

The manager's nightmare - watching your goalkeeper helped off and realising you forgot to pack a spare one - became reality for Charlton's Alan Curbishley at Roots Hall.

The Robins' keeper Mike Salmon collided with his own defender Paul Burgess and the Southend striker Jeroen Boere. The ball fell to Andy Thomson who equalised Paul Mortimer's 32nd-minute penalty.

Salmon and Burgess, 11 stitches between them, left the field, the Charlton full-back Steve Brown went into goal and Garry Nelson and Mark Robson came off the subs' bench. But so poor were Southend that Brown scarcely had a shot to save.

Norwich, stunned by the sale of two key players, won 3-0 at Reading. "I told the lads to use the events of this week to our advantage," Gary Megson, the relieved manager, said. Careful, the chairman Robert Chase might sell another two this week.

Italy's men may be on strike but their women aren't. They beat England 2-1 in Cosenza, after the visitors took the lead, and go top of European Championship qualifying group three.

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