Football roundup: Midlanders inching closer to Europe

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The Independent Online
TWO of the smaller Premiership clubs in the Midlands, Leicester City and Coventry City, had been faring significantly better than the bigger fish from Brum - until Aston Villa's revival under John Gregory - and they shared honours yesterday in a 1-1 draw at Filbert Street.

It was Leicester's first home game for six weeks and Martin O'Neill's side had seen its hopes of a second consecutive Uefa Cup place slump badly in recent weeks - losing three games in succession - but they seemed to be back on track when, after dominating the first half, Stuart Wilson put them ahead in the 78th minute. The substitute finished off Graham Fenton's deflected shot from close range.

Relief at taking the lead was to be very short-lived, however. Two minutes after Wilson's goal, Dion Dublin, the Sky Blues captain, sent the ball into the Leicester danger area and Noel Whelan hooked the ball in from seven yards.

Bolton Wanderers scrapped and struggled at Selhurst Park to grab another point against fellow relegation strugglers Wimbledon in a goalless draw but the Dons will be happy, keeping Wanderers six points behind them with as many games remaining.

Dean Holdsworth, the Wanderers' former Wimbledon forward, caused panic in the home side's defence after only 10 seconds when he blocked a clearance by the Dons' defender, Dean Blackwell, and the ball was quickly slipped to Nathan Blake, who scored. But he was ruled offside.

The Londoners, who had won only one of their five previous Premiership matches, took the warning and Robbie Earle twice had chances to put them ahead from right wing crosses in the first half. The miss of the match, however, fell to Carl Euell. Unmarked when picked out by Michael Hughes' lob, he hit his shot into the ground and it bounced up to allow Keith Branagan to tip over the bar.

Sheffield Wednesday dominated Southampton at Hillsborough but had to wait until the 78th minute to get the reward their control and perseverance deserved. Benito Carbone played a neat one-two with Paolo Di Canio, burst into the penalty area and fired in from 15 yards. It was a strike sufficient to win the game and give Wednesday 40 points and Premiership safety.

Earlier, Mark Pembridge, the Owls' Welsh international midfielder, had missed the best first-half chance. The Saints' defender David Hughes slipped as he was about to clear a Carbone cross and the ball dropped invitingly to Pembridge but he shot wide from eight yards.

In the First Division relegation battle, Reading moved up two places when they beat Stoke City 2-0 at Elm Park, consigning Chris Kamara's side to bottom of the table. There was better news from the Potteries other threatened side as Port Vale picked up three valuable points after a 3- 0 win over Oxford United at Vale Park. At Fratton Park, Portsmouth grabbed an 89th-minute equaliser through Andy Thomson (Dele Adebola had given Birmingham City the lead five minutes earlier) as Pompey stay a place above relegation.