Football: Sunderland make the most of Quinn's reprieve

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NIALL QUINN might well have been training with the Republic of Ireland squad on Saturday. Instead he had permission to stay with his club and joined up with his fellow internationals yesterday content with having helped Sunderland earn three points to maintain their five-point lead at the top of the Nationwide First Division.

Mick McCarthy, the Republic's manager, was not particularly happy that world football's governing body, Fifa, had waived the five-day release rule, enabling both Irish and Yugoslav players to appear for their clubs this weekend before Wednesday's rearranged European championship qualifier between the two nations in Belgrade. Peter Reid, Sunderland's manager, was delighted, however.

Quinn scored one goal and contributed to the other, turned into his own net by Neil Aspin, as Sunderland won 2-0 at Port Vale. Reid said: "We took advantage of the Fifa rule to play Niall Quinn and I was pleased he was available. He made a very good contribution."

Watford's 1-1 draw at Stockport County and Birmingham City's 1-0 home defeat by Oxford allowed Ipswich Town to pull clear in second place, which rounded off a magnificent fortnight for the goalkeeper Richard Wright. Called up for England's squad for the friendly against the Czech Republic at Wembley, Wright began his spectacular spell by becoming a father hours before helping Ipswich to beat Wolves. He then was named the Nationwide League player of October, which enhanced his 21st birthday celebrations, and was followed by the England call. Saturday's game at Barnsley brought the pounds 5m-rated keeper his 12th clean sheet of the season.

He pulled off two superb saves at Barnsley to preserve the fifth-minute advantage earned by David Johnson. "The rate things are going then I would hope it's not too much longer before I am in the Premier League," said Wright, who would find no shortage of takers if Ipswich miss promotion again this season.

Remarkable as Wright is at keeping the ball out of the net, Lee Hughes is his equal at putting the ball in it. The West Bromwich Albion striker took his season's tally to 21 with a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory over Huddersfield Town, who had their keeper, Nico Vaesen, sent off. Hughes struck twice from the penalty spot and added a late third after David Beresford had given the visitors the lead.

Not that Albion's manager, Denis Smith, is satisfied. "I know he has got 21 goals so far this season but he could have taken that figure up to 30," he said.

There was a hat-trick, too, for Sheffield United's Belarus international, Petr Kachuro, who struck in 23 second-half minutes to condemn Bury to a 3-1 defeat.

Fifth-placed Bradford City kept up their fine run of form with a 3-0 victory over Swindon Town at Valley Parade, while Queen's Park Rangers continued their revival since Gerry Francis returned to Loftus Road for a second spell as manager. They swept aside Crewe Alexandra 2-0 with goals from Gavin Peacock and Mike Sheron, who scored with a spectacular overhead kick.