Football: Preece gives County a lift to the top

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The Independent Online
Brighton. . . . . . . . . . .1

Stockport County. . . . . . .1

STOCKPORT COUNTY have failed at the play-off stage in both of the last two seasons, which is making them all the keener to win promotion outright in 1993-94. Yesterday they took a small but decisive step towards that aim when, helped by Hull City's defeat at Port Vale, they picked up a point at Brighton to take them to the top of the Second Division.

But it was an unconvincing performance, and their Uruguayan manager, Danny Bergara, was not celebrating. 'We have to ask ourselves, 'How desperate are we to stay at the top?' ' he said. 'Because if that's how we're going to play, we won't be there for long.'

What had upset Bergara was some particularly inept football in the last half-hour when Brighton were reduced to 10 men following the sending-off of their central defender Paul McCarthy for a second bookable offence. As is so often the case, it was the under- strength side who responded better to the situation.

Brighton were clearly the hungrier if less able side. But when you are pounds 3m in debt and have just won an appeal against yet another winding-up order, your survival instincts are well honed.

They got off to the perfect start when Kurt Nogan shot them in front from close range after nine minutes, and for a while there was a real edge to their approach. But Stockport began to assert themselves, channelling attacks through their 6ft 7in centre-forward Kevin Francis, a man who can win plenty in the air without even leaving the ground.

It was a terrestrial touch from Francis, however, which got Stockport back into the game after 30 minutes when he shielded the ball well on the edge of the box fed it left to Andy Preece, and he studiously guided a shot low into the corner of the Brighton net.

The game looked Stockport's for the taking, and they would have won it but for some fine goalkeeping by Nicky Rust. But Brighton, with no fewer than five teenagers in their side, showed enough youthful determination to hold on for a draw which reflected better on them than their opponents.