Football: Mills an instant boon for Charlton

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TOPPING up a squad challenging for promotion as the season enters its final lap is a sure sign of intent to succeed yet when Charlton Athletic, pursuing a Nationwide First Division play-off place, paid pounds 350,000 for Danny Mills in the week they could hardly have expected such a prompt dividend payment.

The former Norwich midfielder scored after just three minutes of his debut, at Crewe Alexandra, heading into an empty net after Jason Kearton had parried a Mark Bright shot. Athletic doubled their lead a minute before the break when Clive Mendonca picked out wing-back Shaun Newton who finished crisply. Mark Kinsella, played in by Paul Mortimer, wrapped up the 3-0 win to consolidate fourth place.

Alan Curbishley, the Londoners' manager, said: "I asked them for more steel away from home and they have given it to me. We knew this was a big weekend and we would have to pick something up."

It took 12 games but Stoke City at last achieved a win under Chris Kamara's management. "Seven weeks and three days since that first game against Swindon, so its been a long time," Kamara said after seeing the Potters beat Queen's Park Rangers 2-1 at Britannia Stadium.

The rare victory started when Iain Dowie sliced the ball into his own net. Stoke's second was more conventional, courtesy of Dean Crowe.

That result sent Reading, beaten 2-0 at home by Huddersfield Town, to the bottom, not the start the new caretaker manager, Alan Pardew, wanted. It has been a season of under-achievement on Merseyside and in Birkenhead Tranmere Rovers have been doing their bit by figuring strongly in the First Division relegation struggle. But yesterday's 3-1 win over Bradford City, who've now gained just five points from 13 games, lifted Rovers another two places away from the relegation zone.

Bury brought Oxford United's fine vein of form to an end at Gigg Lane when Tony Ellis scored the only goal of the game; Port Vale grabbed a point via Martin Foyle's late equaliser at West Brom in a 2-2 draw.

In the Second Division, the leaders Watford were pegged back at Oldham when Mark Allott's 90th-minute goal gave the Latics a 2-2 draw. Second- placed Bristol City fared even worse, losing 2-0 at Plymouth. In the Third, Notts County were held to a 0-0 draw by Colchester United, which denied them promotion. Next match, perhaps.

This afternoon, Middlesbrough entertain Norwich City. A win to take Boro back into the automatic promotion places and for some a place in next weekend's Coca-Cola Cup Final team is at stake. "My players should be flying with the chance to stake a claim for Wembley," Bryan Robson, their manager, said. "Their performances could influence my selection for the final." They have been warned.

Speaking of Wembley, two clubs definitely booked in there are Tow Law Town and Tiverton Town, who'll meet in the FA Vase Final. Tow Law beat Taunton 1-0 (5-4 on aggregate), Jarrod Suddick, son of Alan, the former Newcastle and Blackpool forward, scoring the all-important goal. Tiverton lost 2-1 at Kidsgrove Athletic but went through 3-2 on aggregate.