Their pursuers from Suffolk swept aside Portsmouth 3-0, with Richard Naylor continuing to smooth over the four-week absence of David Johnson, who reappeared from the bench late on, by scoring twice in quick succession midway through the first half. Kieron Dyer added a third before half-time, and Ipswich coasted home.
But Sunderland should also be looking over their shoulders at Birmingham, who picked up three points again yesterday and are now fourth. They won 1-0 at home against Sheffield United, who are managed by their former player Steve Bruce. Paul Furlong earned a 20th-minute penalty and converted it himself to put his side only 11 points behind the leaders.
Sunderland will be hoping to recover their glow at the Stadium of Light tomorrow when they take on the bottom club Crewe, who beat Bury 3-1. Ipswich travel to Wolves, where they may face a backlash. Wolves lost 1-0 at Swindon to Iffy Onuora's 89th-minute goal. Birmingham go to Bury.
Graham Taylor, still restricted to part-time work and banned from shouting, returned to the touchline at Vicarage Road for the first time since his throat problem struck in early November and saw Allan Smart score the 57th-minute goal that gave his side a 1-0 victory over Bristol City and kept them in third place. The result showed Watford's grit after their 10-game unbeaten run was ended by Grimsby last week.
Neither Bolton nor another unexpected promotion challenger Bradford City could make any further progress, drawing 0-0 at the Reebok Stadium, but Huddersfield moved above Bolton and Norwich with a 2-0 home win over Grimsby. Marcus Stewart set them on their way after 53 minutes and Chris Beech, on loan from Hartlepool, added the second.
Norwich's progress was halted at Loftus Road, where Queen's Park Rangers found a second wind after their revival under Gerry Francis had faltered and won 2-0. They set off determined to put a home defeat by Crewe behind them and shrugged off the first-minute loss of Mike Sheron to a hamstring strain. On-loan Rob Steiner took his place and created a chance that Kevin Gallen wasted. Gallen made amends in the 11th minute, swinging Ian Barraclough's quick throw across for Paul Murray to volley home. Seven minutes later, Steiner and Gallen capitalised on a poor clearance to set up Gavin Peacock for the second.
Oxford stay in the bottom three after two late strikes gave Crystal Palace a 3-1 victory at the Manor Ground. Clinton Morrison's goal was followed by a Lee Bradbury penalty.
Fulham, the Second Division leaders, predictably dominated their match against Colchester and duly won it 2-0 but it was not without frustration for the home fans at Craven Cottage. Fulham led only through Neil Smith's 26th-minute strike until Carl Emberson came off his line to bring down Fulham's German substitute Dirk Lehmann and was sent off. Barry Hayles converted the 73rd-minute penalty.
The biggest Third Division crowd of the season, 12,452, saw the leaders Cardiff beat Shrewsbury 3-0 at Ninian Park.
Graeme Armstrong set a British record for an outfield player by making the 864th appearance of his career, for Stenhousemuir in their 2-2 draw with East Stirling in the Scottish Third Division. Armstrong, 42, passed the mark established by Tommy Hutchison in 1991. The former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton holds the all-time record of 1,005 appearances.Reuse content