Football: Angry Ball berates poor Portsmouth

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The Independent Online
IF IT was not for words like pathetic, abysmal, gutless and disgraceful, Portsmouth's performance in losing 3-0 at Ipswich yesterday would have left Alan Ball speechless.

"What words do I use?" their manager asked before recalling those four. "Ipswich are a good pass-and-move team but we were absolutely embarrassing apart from the keeper. If my footballers were bricklayers the house they built would fall down."

Pompey fans, who possibly prefer comparing the team to hod-carriers, have been worried that their Fratton Park ground might suffer just that fate. Now after their "Gregory out" campaign, they must concentrate on fretting over a similar success in the battle against dropping through the cellar door. Oxford might be showing signs of strain (they lost at home again, 3-1 to Crystal Palace), but the bottom club Crewe have found a winning formula, beating Bury 3-1.

Ipswich are intent on escaping the Nationwide First Division through the skylight and having survived the four-week absence of the free-scoring David Johnson, who returned as a substitute yesterday, their Premiership promotion campaign looks on course. Richard Naylor again proved an able deputy, scoring twice midway through the first half. Kieron Dyer added a third to leave the second half for exhibition stuff.

Victory felt all the better when the news filtered through that Sunderland had suffered only their second League defeat of the season, at Tranmere. Scott Taylor rifled in the only goal with his right foot after 64 minutes to cut Sunderland's advantage at the top to five points.

Sunderland should also be looking over their shoulders at Birmingham, who picked up three points again yesterday and are now fourth. They won 1-0 at home against Sheffield United, with Paul Furlong earning and converting a penalty after 20 minutes to put his side only 11 points behind the leaders.

Sunderland will be hoping to recover their glow at the Stadium of Light tomorrow when they take on Crewe, while Ipswich travel to Wolves, who lost 1-0 at Swindon to Iffy Onuora's 89th-minute goal. Birmingham go to Bury.

Graham Taylor, still restricted to part-time work and banned from shouting, was on the touchline at Vicarage Road for the first time since his throat problem struck in early November and saw Allan Smart score the 57th-minute goal that gave his side a 1-0 win over Bristol City and kept them third.

Neither Bolton nor Bradford City could make any further progress, drawing 0-0 at the Reebok Stadium, but Huddersfield moved above Bolton and Norwich with a 2-0 home win over Grimsby. Marcus Stewart scored after 53 minutes and Chris Beech, on loan from Hartlepool, added the second.

Norwich's progress was halted at Loftus Road, where Queen's Park Rangers won 2-0. QPR seem to have found a second wind after their revival under Gerry Francis had faltered and early goals from Paul Murray and Gavin Peacock earned the points.

Fulham, the Second Division leaders, predictably beat Colchester 2-0 at Craven Cottage, but only added to Neil Smith's first-half goal when the visiting goalkeeper, Carl Emberson, was sent off and Barry Hayles converted the resulting penalty.

The biggest Third Division crowd of the season, 12,452, saw the leaders Cardiff beat Shrewsbury 3-0 at Ninian Park.

Graeme Armstrong set a British record for an outfield player by making the 864th appearance of his career, for Stenhousemuir in their 2-2 draw with East Stirling in the Scottish Third Division. Armstrong, 42, passed the mark established by Tommy Hutchison in 1991. The former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton holds the all-time record of 1,005 appearances.

l John McGrath, the former Newcastle United central defender and Preston North End manager, has died aged 60 of a suspected heart attack.