Football: Rush gives Bonds a lift

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THE Easter programme is traditionally the time when two wins will nudge a team's promotion push into overdrive or two defeats will send their relegation struggle into tailspin and get the manager vilified in the local press. West Ham United, without a Premiership win since New Year's Day and having lost their last four games, were clearly in need of divine intervention. So the Hammers' manager, Billy Bonds, dropped Lee Chapman, their leading scorer, for yesterday's visit from Ipswich Town.

Matthew Rush, just back from a loan spell at Swansea, came into the side. He vindicated Bonds's decision by scoring after 17 minutes but was carried off on a stretcher three minutes from time.

'Rushie scored a great goal and we needed that badly to give us a lift,' Bonds said. 'He had a terrific first half but when he went off he was just milking the applause. I think he will be fit for the game at Tottenham on Monday.' A hard taskmaster indeed.

The East Anglians, managed by the former West Ham centre-back and coach Mick McGiven, offered little but rugged endeavour, never really testing Ludek Miklosko in the West Ham goal and fell further behind when lone striker Trevor Morley added the Hammers' second. The 2-1 win lifted West Ham above Ipswich.

Last Saturday, Coventry City ended a four-match losing streak by beating Norwich. Wimbledon have little sentiment for things like that and, buoyed by their midweek crushing of Blackburn, began another Sky Blues losing run with a

2-1 win at Highfield Road.

The frantic scramble at the top of the First Division is beginning to look like the first morning of the spring sale at Selfridges. Crystal Palace appear to be getting the best bargains. Their 2-1 home win, after a sluggish performance over relegation-threatened Oxford United, stretched their lead at the top to eight points. Chris Armstrong scored his 22nd goal of the season and Paul Stewart claimed the winner.

'We had a little bit of quality,' Alan Smith, the Palace manager, said, 'and that's been the difference this year. Extra quality in finishing, and mental toughness, to see you through a season in this division, where every game is like a Cup tie.'

To prove the point their three closest pursuers drew. Nottingham Forest and Millwall both earned credit for hard work at Middlesbrough and Portsmouth respectively. Leicester's 1-1 draw at Watford was a considerable improvement on recent form but the Hornets' equaliser came three minutes into injury time when Dennis Bailey, on loan from Queen's Park Rangers, stole in to head home Andy Hessenthaler's cross.

The Valley was no place for faint hearts yesterday as Charlton ended a run of six successive defeats. Celebrating the opening of their new East Stand, Athletic went 3-0 up against Southend - Paul Gorman's opener was their first for 354 minutes - but then United fought back to 3-3 three minutes before time. But Alan Pardew grabbed Athletic's dramatic winner a minute from the end. Derby kept their hopes alive by beating Barnsley, but clubs as low as 16th have a chance of reaching the play- offs.

Luton limbered up for next week's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea by beating lowly Peterborough 2-0, Kerry Dixon scoring both, and Birmingham's late resurgence continued when they dominated Stoke to win 3-1 after scoring twice in 90 seconds.

In the Second Division, leaders Reading recovered from their recent jitters to beat Bristol Rovers 2-0. Leading scorer Jimmy Quinn took his season's total to 34. Second- placed Plymouth won the West Country derby against Exeter

1-0 but third-placed Stockport lost the North-west derby at Blackpool.

Shrewsbury moved from fourth to second in the Third Division with a 2-0 win over Hereford as Chester's 3-2 win against Preston increased their lead to two points. Clearly, all promotion issues will be subject to the twists and turns of Government decision-making.

In Italy, Milan need three points from four remaining Serie A games after Gianfranco Zola scored a late equaliser for Parma at the San Siro Stadium. Second-placed Juventus are six points behind. Bayern Munich moved closer to their 13th Bundesliga title, beating Cologne 1-0. Eintracht Frankfurt, surprisingly lost to bottom-of- the-table Liepzig, by four points.