Football: Ball confronts angry supporters

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The Independent Online
THE PORTSMOUTH manager, Alan Ball, broke up a pitch demonstration of around 500 fans after the First Division side's defeat by Grimsby at Fratton Park yesterday.

Speaking from a microphone in the directors' box, Ball to persuade the fans to go home after Pompey's 1-0 defeat. Supporters also staged a sit- down protest at half-time against the Pompey chairman, Martin Gregory, after the first-team squad was put up for sale to meet huge debts.

Ball told the fans: "Everyone knows how you feel and we sympathise. Your support has been fantastic and we realise just what this club means to you. But rest assured no one is going anywhere and we shall try to get our way out of trouble on and off the pitch."

The victorious Grimsby manager, Alan Buckley, who saw Paul Groves head the only goal of the game, sympathised with the home side. "Of course I feel sorry for Alan and I know what I would do in his situation, but it is not for me to tell a great manager and a great player what he should do," he said.

Birmingham took revenge for a home defeat earlier in the season when they thrashed Oxford at the Manor Ground. The 7-1 mauling left the Oxford manager, Malcolm Shotton, devastated. "Every time Birmingham went forward they looked like scoring," he said.

Sunderland increased their lead at the top of the table to seven points following the 2-0 defeat of Port Vale at the Stadium of Light, but their manager, Peter Reid, was more satisfied with the performance of Alex Rae. The Scottish midfielder returned to the side after personal problems which included a spell at the Marchwood Priory clinic in Hampshire, where Paul Gascoigne was recently admitted.

"Alex's response was top class," Reid said. "I thought his passing was exceptional and he knocked a lot of balls around the field that got us going forward, as well as winning the ball back for us."

The Stockport manager, Gary Megson, is tipping Watford to catch up with second-placed Ipswich at the top after his side lost 4-2 to the Hornets.

"They are the best team we have played," Megson said. "Personally, from what I've seen, I would put them on a par with Sunderland."

Bradford came from behind to inflict a 4-1 defeat on Swindon at the County Ground. But Lee Mills, who scored twice, was sent off for a second bookable offence after kicking the ball away.

"He knows it is very silly but having been booked already the referee had no option but to send him off," the Bradford manager, Paul Jewell, said.

The Wolves defender Kevin Muscat was fortunate to stay on the field after a horrific tackle on Norwich's Craig Bellamy in the 2-2 draw at Molineux.

Bellamy was taken off on a stretcher to receive nine stitches in his knee while Muscat played on without even conceding a free-kick for the incident.

"I want my players to be competitive but I certainly don't want them kicking people and there were instances which got a little bit out of hand today, I must admit," the Wolves manager, Colin Lee, said.

The Queen's Park Rangers manager, Gerry Francis, was furious after his side failed to capitalise on a glorious chance to move up the table by losing 1-0 at home to bottom-placed Crewe. "I think that first 45 minutes today was the worst since I took over," Francis complained.

Tranmere earned a late reprieve when their captain, Kenny Irons, secured a point in the last minute against Bolton at Prenton Park.

Ade Akinbiyi took just a minute to equalise for Bristol City after a Mickey Bell own-goal appeared to have set Crystal Palace on their way to a first win in five games.

A James Quinn brace, along with Lee Hughes' 24th of the season, saw Huddersfield lose 3-0 at home to West Bromwich.