Football: Vale's bad boy off to a familiar start


CONSISTENCY AND luck, two hugely valued commodities in football, revealed their less helpful sides at St Andrews and Maine Road. At the former, the Port Vale defender, Tommy Widdrington, sent off in his final match of 1998-99, showed commendable reliability when he was sent off again, just 90 seconds into his first match of this season. He left his side with a hard day's work at Birmingham City. They held out for six minutes. Bryan Hughes gave Brum the lead and their fans settled to enjoy the rout. Ten minutes later Paul Furlong made it 2-0 but, after surviving almost constant pressure, Vale broke away to pull a goal back through Tony Rougier. Furlong restored Brum's two-goal cushion but Tony Naylor made it 3-2 before the break.

Six minutes into the second half Hughes' second made it 4-2 and that's how it ended. "You can't dive in like that and not expect not to be sent off," Brian Horton, the Vale manager, said of Widdrington's lunge. "He is an experienced player and should know better." Brum are third.

As for luck, a day after Mike McDonald announced he wanted to quit as chairman of First Division Sheffield United, Dame Fortune walked out on the club too. They lost 6-0 at Maine Road, conceded two penalties, and had their goalkeeper, Simon Tracey, sent off as hosts Manchester City scored their first league goals of the season.

The two penalties, converted by Kevin Horlock, came first, the second award leading to Tracey's red card for clattering Shaun Goater. City then ran amok with goals from Mark Kennedy, Goater, Paul Dickov and, to add insult, Gareth Taylor, the former Blades' favourite.

Blackburn Rovers' miserable start to the season continued when they lost 2-1 at home to Barnsley, who were gaining their first points of the season. Barnsley struck first after 65 minutes through Georgi Hristov. Rovers got back into it when Tony Bullock, the visitors' goalkeeper, fouled former Tyke Ashley Ward and Lee Carsley tucked away the 81st-minute penalty.

But four minutes later Neil Shipperley hit Barnsley's winner. "He's got a heart like a lion's and he never stopped running all afternoon," his manager, Dave Bassett, enthused.

Not surprisingly Brian Kidd, the Rovers manager, was less upbeat. "We looked frightened to death and that was a very poor performance. To say I'm disappointed is an understatement... but I am still confident we can get it right."

Stockport County had never won at Fratton Park, stuck to tradition and lost their 100 per cent record as Portsmouth confirmed their encouraging start with a 2-0 win. A dire first half - there was not a shot on target - was soon forgotten as goals by Stefano Miglioranzi and Rory Allen lifted Pompey to second.

Wolverhampton Wanderers began life after Robbie Keane with a 1-1 draw at Queen's Park Rangers. Steve Corica gave Wolves the lead; Gavin Peacock's fourth goal of the season gained Rangers a point.

Playing only their second game of the season, Charlton Athletic kept their perfect record intact with a 1-0 win over Norwich City at The Valley thanks to defender Richard Rufus's late strike. Swindon Town, mauled by Ipswich last week, regained self-respect with a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace.

The Second Division champions, Fulham, showed full acclimatisation to life at the higher level when they battled to parity at Grimsby Town. Both sides scored a goal, had a player sent off and made a point.

Not such a smooth transition for Walsall, promoted with Fulham. They lost 4-1 at home to Crewe Alexandra. "I feel raped," Ray Graydon, the Midlanders' less than tactful manager, said. "We played as good football as at any time since I have been here." Dario Gradi, his opposite number, admitted that, "At half-time I thought we had got off lightly. I won't get carried away. It was not a super performance but it was a super result."

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