Football round-up: Top two stumble in step

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The Independent Online
'AFTER You . . .' 'No, no . . . After you.' An unexpected outburst of etiquette and manners at the top of the Premiership yesterday saw Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers stay as they were when both spurned the chance to go three points clear.

First, Kenny Dalglish's Rovers were beaten 3-1 at Southampton, with Matthew Le Tissier the architect of their downfall, creating two and scoring one of the goals. But Blackburn were furious about Le Tissier's penalty, awarded, they claimed, when Tim Sherwood was hit in the face by the ball, for which the referee Joe Worrall awarded the spot kick. 'Our lads don't usually react to decisions,' Dalglish said, 'so you could tell by the way they reacted here that there was something wrong with it.' The win lifted Saints out of the third relegation place.

At about the time Rovers were climbing back into the team coach, Manchester United's Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel spilled Gary Elkins' near-post cross at the feet of the Wimbledon striker John Fashanu who could hardly avoid scoring his 11th goal of the season. The Crazy Gang had spoiled yet another party.

Blackburn's slip-up left Newcastle United, 2-0 winners at Liverpool, and the European Cup Winners Cup finalists Arsenal, who beat FA Cup finalists Chelsea 1-0, with a slim chance of a Uefa Cup place. United's win included Andy Cole's 39th goal of the season, equalling the club record.

In fact very few of the promotion or relegation issues were settled yesterday. Even Swindon Town live to fight another week thanks to their 1-1 draw at Ipswich Town, and to West Ham's 2-1 win at Oldham Athletic, which dropped Joe Royle's side, still suffering after Wednesday's FA Cup semi-final replay defeat, into the third relegation spot. The win confirmed Hammers' Premiership place next season.' That was the worst we have played for a long time,' Royle said. 'Even at 2-1 we never looked like getting back into the game.'

Sheffield United, two points and one place behind Oldham, have unresolved relegation problems too after they also lost 2-1 at home. Their visitors Aston Villa finally remembered the route to goal - they had not scored for four games since winning the Coca-Cola Cup - scoring twice in two minutes to bring United's eight- match unbeaten run to an end. 'It's sod's law,' the Blades' manager, Dave Bassett, said. 'They have not scored in God knows how many games, but that's what happens.'

Troubled Everton lost by a similar margin at Queen's Park Rangers. The Merseysiders claimed Devon White punched QPR's equaliser into the net. 'I thought the officials were scandalous,' the manager, Mike Walker, fumed.

The hangover of last weekend's FA Cup semi-final defeat still afflicts First Division Luton Town, but Crystal Palace aren't complaining. Chris Armstrong scored for the south Londoners in the first minute at Kenilworth Road, it stayed 1-0 and if Millwall fail to beat Nottingham Forest in the televised match at the New Den this afternoon, Palace will go up.

In the play-off zone, eight points separate 10 teams with Leicester, Derby and Tranmere on 66 points and Notts County in the fourth play-off place despite losing to Graham Taylor's chasing Wolves yesterday.

----------------------------------------------------------------- FA PREMIERSHIP TOP TWO ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Man Utd 37 23 10 4 72 37 79 Blackburn 38 24 7 7 59 32 79 -----------------------------------------------------------------