Football: Final Furlong strike puts Birmingham top

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PAUL FURLONG converted two penalties as Birmingham City beat Queen's Park Rangers 2-0 at St Andrews to go top of the Nationwide First Division, but possibly only until the end of today's clash between Manchester City and Ipswich Town at Maine Road.

Rangers' defence held firm until a minute before half-time when Bryan Hughes, who had already seen a goal disallowed for offside, was felled by Gavin Peacock and Furlong slammed in the first of his spot-kicks. In the 64th minute Danny Maddix pushed Furlong, was booked and saw the tall striker bury his second goal of the game. A "very mixed" performance was the verdict of Trevor Francis, Brum's manager.

There were another two crucial penalties, converted by Darren Barnard at Oakwell, where Barnsley beat Huddersfield Town 4-2, a win that lifted them above their Yorkshire neighbours to fourth. Barnsley's Craig Hignett got his manager Dave Bassett's vote as man of the match: "A Premier League player in my opinion," he said.

Fulham moved up to third when they overpowered Crewe 3-0 at Craven Cottage, getting the job done in little more than half an hour to make it 12 games without defeat. "A great achievement," Paul Bracewell, their manager, said. "The important thing is work rate and commitment and I am satisfied with that. It's also nice to have another clean sheet."

Blackburn Rovers beat an overawed Walsall 2-0 at Ewood Park. Ashley Ward gave Rovers the lead and Lee Carsley got the second just before half-time when put through by Ward's flick. "We've come up against the big boys and faced some unbelievably gifted players who have cost their clubs millions," Ray Graydon, Walsall's manager, said. "It will take us a while to see whether we have got what it takes to adjust to the game at this level."

Wolves, who have not won in the league since the opening day of the season, lost again, 3-0 at Sheffield United. The Blades settled the match with two goals in as many minutes early in the second half. "If someone had come into the ground they might have thought we were top of the league. I'm not getting carried away with the performance," Adrian Heath, the Blades' killjoy manager, said.

Tranmere Rovers brought to an end a five-match losing run in the league by drawing 2-2 at home with Charlton Athletic. But they are still bottom.

Portsmouth were booed off the pitch at Fratton Park after they lost 2- 1 at home to 10-man Grimsby Town. The Mariners were leading 1-0 when goalkeeper Danny Coyne was dismissed for a professional foul on Michael Panopoulus. Alan McLoughlin converted the penalty but the visitors' Stacy Coldicott, set up by the impressive Jack Lester, was in the six-yard box to grab the 63rd- minute winner.

There are new leaders in the Second Division, too, after Burnley were held to a goalless draw at Bristol City. The result enabled the West Countrymen's neighbours Rovers to go top. The Pirates won 2-0 at Notts County, who had midfielder Ian Richardson sent off for a professional foul in the 54th minute when the score was still 0-0. Jamie Cureton rapped in the penalty and Andy Tilson wrapped up the win with 14 minutes left.