Football: Charlton finally solve Walsall puzzle

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CHARLTON ATHLETIC narrowed newly cash-rich Manchester City's lead at the top of the Nationwide First Division to four points with a 2-1 win over early-season strugglers Walsall at The Valley. But how they were made to sweat for it.

The Saddlers punished Charlton's sluggish start when, in the 36th minute, Gabor Bukran fired in from Darren Wrack's short free-kick. The lead didn't last until half-time. Andy Hunt turned briskly to fire in after Martin Pringle's shot had been blocked.

Midway through the second half, the Charlton midfielder Graham Stuart struck from 20 yards to give the Londoners their seventh win in eight matches. "Walsall deserved a point, nobody can deny it," Alan Curbishley, the Charlton manager granted. "They played very well and gave us as many problems as anyone this season."

In Yorkshire, Huddersfield Town confidently disposed of struggling Swindon Town, Dean Gorre scoring twice in the second half to complete a 4-0 win. An upset was never on the cards from the ninth minute, when Chris Beech put the Terriers ahead. Ben Thornley doubled their lead 10 minutes before half-time.

Dave Bassett's Barnsley beat one of his former clubs, Sheffield United, 2-0 in a one-sided Yorkshire derby at Oakwell to move up three places to fourth. Neil Shipperley scored both goals. Adrian Heath, the Blades' manager, is desperate for new players. "If I cannot bring anybody in I would like to know this so that I can formulate a game plan to try and get us up the table with the players we have."

Ade Akinbiyi went one better for Wolves, his hat-trick without reply sinking Grimsby Town at Molineux. He has found the net eight times in nine games. "I'm not sure I would have brought him here if it hadn't been for my assistant, John Ward, and Terry Connor," Colin Lee, the Wolves manager, said. "They'd worked with him at Bristol City."

Stockport County moved up two places to seventh when they beat big-spending Fulham 2-1, the Londoners' second defeat this season and first away from home. The usually solid Fulham defence was breached twice in the first 22 minutes. Ian Moore outsmarted Rufus Brevett on the right and bent in a shot and then a Chris Coleman header out of defence fell to Kevin Cooper, who lashed the ball back in. Danny Cadamarteri, on his loan debut from Everton, pulled one back for Fulham but County clung on.

Birmingham City dropped down to sixth after their 2-2 draw with Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Both Pompey's goals came from Alan McLoughlin penalties, the second three minutes from time and highly contentious. "I thought the second penalty was debatable and there were question marks over the first decision," Trevor Francis, Birmingham's manager, said of referee Steve Bennett's performance.

Tranmere Rovers' Andy Parkinson made a nonsense of West Bromwich Albion's unbeaten away record when he scored twice in four first-half minutes at Prenton Park to set Rovers on their way to a 3-0 win. The first was a solo effort, running half the length of the pitch before beating Alan Miller with a right-foot shot. His second was set up by Alan Mahon, who scored Rovers' third from the penalty spot.

David Platt, Nottingham Forest's player-manager, was suspended from the former portion of his job description, so was unable to materially affect matters at Carrow Road when his side lost 1-0 to Norwich City, Darryl Sutch scoring his first goal for over two years.

There are new leaders in the Third Division. Rotherham, reduced to 10 men at half-time when Guy Branston was sent off, could only draw 0-0 at Hull so Peterborough, 4-1 winners over Shrewsbury - all the scoring came before the half-hour - and Barnet, who squeezed past Darlington 1- 0 at Underhill, went first and second.

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