Football: Curious cameo marks Ward's card

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ASHLEY WARD, the striker coveted by Nottingham Forest and Leicester City and priced by Barnsley at pounds 5m, exhibited the full range of his repertoire in five extraordinary first-half minutes at the Stadium of Light as the Tykes ended the 18-match unbeaten start to the season made by the Nationwide First Division leaders, Sunderland, with a 3-2 win.

Ward's performance - more like a dramatic cameo - began in the 33rd minute when he capitalised on a mix-up between Thomas Sorensen and Darren Williams to tap in his 14th goal of the season.

Three minutes later Williams felled Bruce Dyer and Ward blasted the penalty over the bar. A minute later he stamped on Williams in an off-the-ball incident and left the stage.

Undaunted, his remaining 10 colleagues held out for the rest of the half and increased their lead in the first minute of the second half, Dyer scoring. The Wearsiders seemed to have salvaged a point thanks to a Martin Scott penalty and Niall Quinn's equaliser. But they were condemned to the first home defeat in 14 months when Darren Barnard tucked in a late penalty.

Ipswich Town also slipped up at home when Bob Taylor's 90th-minute goal gave Bolton Wanderers a 1-0 win but their East Anglian neighbours, Norwich City, moved up to fifth by beating Tranmere Rovers 3-1 at Prenton Park. Keith O'Neill and Craig Bellamy put the Canaries in charge with first half goals but five minutes into the second half Kenny Irons gave Rovers heart. Seven minutes from time, Iwan Roberts' goal extended Norwich's unbeaten run to seven games.

After three consecutive wins, Queen's Park Rangers got back to their losing ways when Sheffield United beat them 2-1 at Loftus Road. Graham Stuart put the visitors ahead in the 12th minute and on the half-hour Petr Kachuro made it 2-0. Gavin Peacock pulled one back early in the second half and Kachuro was sent off in the 74th minute but the Blades held on to go fourth.

The division's other London side, Crystal Palace, kept up their lamentable away form intact in a 2-0 defeat at Swindon Town. George Ndah, the Robins' former Palace striker, put them ahead midway through the first half; a Mark Walters penalty a minute after the restart quashed all thoughts of a comeback.

Lee Hughes, the division's leading scorer, took just 48 seconds to score his 22nd goal of the season for West Bromwich Albion, giving them the lead against Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Thereafter he was upstaged by Pompey's 17-year-old striker, Luke Nightingale, who scored twice to keep the points on the South coast.

After three defeats in which they leaked 13 goals, Bristol City only let in one goal and got a point in a home draw with Stockport County.

Bristol's troubles on the pitch are as nothing to Oxford United's - on and off. With manager Malcolm Shotton and all non-playing staff unpaid since September, morale at the Manor Ground was boosted by a 2-1 win over Port Vale, Dean Windass and Paul Powell scoring in the first 12 minutes.

In the big battle between the Little managers, Brian saw his Second Division leaders, Stoke City, beat York City, managed by younger brother Alan 2- 0 at the Britannia Stadium. York have now gone eight games without a win.