Football: Pompey find play-off push

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The Independent Online
Portsmouth's drive up the First Division table since Christmas reached the play-off places yesterday when they scored three times in the final 15 minutes of the first half to set up a 3-1 win over Bradford City at Fratton Park.

Pompey were given every assistance by the visitors when Nigel Pepper picked up his second booking as early as the 11th minute and was sent off. Six minutes later, just to make it even more interesting, Bradford scored. Shaun Murray's free-kick was deflected past the goalkeeper Alan Knight.

Portsmouth's numerical superiority, and boundless confidence, then began to tell, personified by Lee Bradbury who equalised on the half-hour, his 14th goal of the season, and set up goals for Paul Hall and Matthias Svensson.

At half time Chris Kamara, the Bradford manager, made a some injudicious observations to the referee, Barry Knight, concerning Pepper's dismissal and was banished from the dug-out.

Norwich City kept their hopes of a play-off berth alive with a comfortable 3-0 win against Swindon Town. Darren Eadie's booming 30-yard left-foot shot gave the Canaries a 12th-minute lead. In the second half, a Keith O'Neill goal and Eadie's second, after rounding Fraser Digby, the Robins' embattled keeper, made it a cruise.

At the Victoria Ground, Stoke City kept up with the play-off pace by beating Oldham 2-1. Mike Sheron put the Potters ahead with only 17 minutes gone. Gary Kelly, the Athletic goalkeeper, brought down Ray Wallace and saved Sheron's spot kick but the striker followed up to net his 22nd goal of the season. Mike Macari made it 2-0 and Stuart Barlow pulled one back late on for Athletic but their prospects of avoiding the drop look bleak.

Queen's Park Rangers, three points and six places off the play-offs, overcame Oxford United in a five goal thriller at the Manor Ground. The hosts led from the 10th minute when Nigel Jemson scored his 21st goal of the season, a penalty conceded by Steve Yates, who duly equalised 11 minutes later. Paul Moody headed Oxford back in front, though not for long. John Spencer, released from the Scotland squad by Craig Brown to play, claimed the second equaliser just before the half hour, and Gavin Peacock, running on to Spencer's long ball, scored Rangers' winner four minutes before half time.

In the Second Division, Luton's prolific striker Tony Thorpe scored twice to beat Burnley as the Hatters reclaimed an automatic promotion place and in the Third, Wigan Athletic went back to the top thanks to David Lowe's 90th-minute winner at Northampton Town.