Watford's second goal came eight minutes into the second half, when Tom Mooney turned in Peter Kennedy's cross. Leon McKenzie pulled one back for the Londoners with three minutes remaining but the Hornets held on for three points to draw level on both points and goals scored with the sixth-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers.
"If we win all our remaining games we will be in the play-offs," Watford's manager, Graham Taylor, said. "So that makes Tuesday night's game a massive one. Port Vale are fighting for their lives and it won't be easy but if we win there we would put pressure on Bolton on Wolves who meet next week.
Wolves play West Brom in the Black Country derby today at Molineux. Albion have gone seven games without a win, but Colin Lee, the Wolves manager, isn't fooled. "The form book goes out of the window on occasions like this. Any local team will come along and give you a hard game." But his coveted striker, Robbie Keane, returns after international duty.
In the basement, Bristol City went back to the bottom after a 2-1 home defeat by fourth-placed Birmingham City. Bristol fans, furious at the award of a penalty to Brum when Bristol were leading 1-0, shouted "cheats" at Trevor Francis and his team as they left the pitch. "There was some spitting, but we had plenty of shampoo in the dressing room and you don't mind it when you win," Francis quipped. A Bristol steward had scuffled with the Birmingham players and had to be restrained by colleagues.
The incident which sparked such fury came in the 48th minute when Shaun Taylor tussled with Peter Ndlovu and the referee, Mike Dean, gave a penalty, "one of several strange decisions," Benny Lennartson, the Bristol manager, said. From the kick, Martin Grainger equalised Ade Akinbiyi's 22nd goal of the season, scored two minutes earlier.
Brum snatched the win when Ndlovu latched on David Howells' underhit back pass to score. Elsewhere, Oxford United's plight worsened when they lost 4-2 at home to Norwich City.
If ever a testimony needed to be written to the efficacy of the play- offs in extending the season for more clubs, yesterday's fixtures in the Second and Third Divisions provided it. No fewer than nine of the 12 matches in each division had some bearing on the promotion, play-off or relegation issues.
With one Second Division automatic promotion still available, Walsall opened up a five-point gap after Darren Wrack gave them a 1-0 win at Lincoln City, where relegation is a real threat. Manchester City lost ground when they were beaten 2-1 at Maine Road by Wycombe, in similar difficulties to Lincoln, and Preston dropped two points as Millwall forced a 2-2 draw at the New Den.
In the Third, the top two swapped places. Cardiff City won 2-1 at Scarborough, who look likely to return to the Conference they last graced in 1987, but Cambridge United were held to a 1-1 draw in an ill- tempered local derby with Peterborough United, who had Andy Edwards sent off in the 67th minute.