Football: Round-up: Decked by Beck

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The Independent Online
If confirmation of the tightness of the struggle at the top of the First Division were needed, the three narrow and nervy 1-0 wins for the leaders Nottingham Forest, second-placed Middlesbrough over West Bromwich Albion, who dropped to third, and fourth-placed Sheffield United, certainly provided it.

The partnership forged at Boro by the striker Mikkel Beck and the former Arsenal front man Paul Merson since the departure of Fabrizio Ravanelli is flourishing profitably. Yesterday it was the factor which separated them from West Brom at the Riverside Stadium.

The resistance of an Albion side assembled at a fraction of the cost of Bryan Robson's cosmopolitan team was broken in the 34th minute when Merson robbed Richard Sneekes on the halfway line and slipped the ball to Beck, who ran to his left before chipping over the advancing Alan Miller for his eighth goal of the season.

Robson, who first made his name as a player at the Hawthorns, felt his present side had ridden its luck. "There is no way Albion deserved to lose but sometimes football goes like that. I was pleased with the way our youngsters stood up in the second half. I don't think they gave West Brom any chance."

The victory ended three tough games against promotion rivals Albion, Forest and Swindon in the space of seven days. Boro emerged with two wins and draw. "If someone had given me seven points before this week I'd have more than likely taken it - we have done very well," Robson said.

The leaders Forest won 1-0 at Portman Road where Ipswich Town succumbed to a Kevin Campbell strike in the 65th minute. Chris Bart-Williams, playing his last game before a knee operation, knocked the ball back for the former Arsenal striker to score his 10th goal of the season with a right-footed shot from 10 yards.

Dave Bassett, the Forest manager, thought Campbell and Pierre Van Hooijdonk, his strikers, were the difference between the sides. "They were excellent, a menace to the Ipswich defence. For the first 20 minutes we were all over the place and were lucky not to concede a goal. I said at the interval that our passing would have to improve and it was pleasing to get our goal after sustained pressure."

The Blades moved up two places to fourth when Jan Aage Fjortoft scored two minutes into the second half breaching Crewe's defences at Bramall Lane. The hosts had dominated the first half, squandered countless chances and looked like adding to their collection of four consecutive draws.

Then the Sheffield captain, David Holdsworth, picked out Fjortoft with a 40-yard pass. The tall striker ran on, neatly stepped over the ball to fool Jason Kearton in the Crewe goal and coolly slid the ball over the line.

Sunderland and Wolves picked up their momentum again with three-goal wins over Tranmere ("Defensively, we were a shambles," John Aldridge, the Rovers player-manager, said as they lost 3-1) and Queen's Park Rangers, who were beaten 3-2 at Molineux.

At the blunt end of the table, Huddersfield Town moved off the bottom for the first time in three months after beating Bury 2-0, Paul Dalton scoring twice.

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