Football: Wigan's hard road to beat their peers for tireless effort

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The Independent Online
A GRUELLING run-in of five matches in nine days proved no hindrance to Wigan Athletic in their grinding pursuit of a Nationwide Second Division play-off place. Their efforts were finally rewarded when Andy Liddell scored twice in a 3-1 defeat of Chesterfield to wrench sixth place from the grasp of Bournemouth, who had not been out of the top six since mid- December.

The Cherries were held 0-0 at home by Wrexham and an inability to find the net in the last 10 games proved their downfall as Wigan, level on points, outscored them by 12 goals.

Wigan will be at home in the first leg of their play-off semi-final to third-placed Manchester City, who thrashed York City 4-0 at Maine Road, a defeat which confirmed York's relegation. Joe Royle, the City manager, is looking forward to the play-offs: "This division is like 46 cup finals, and now, we've got to the semi-finals. We've still a bit to do and the two-legged semi is a lottery, but we've been defeated only twice in 24 games since Christmas."

Meanwhile, Neil Thompson, York's caretaker manager, hopes to be confirmed as next season's boss. "I still want the job despite us being a Third Division side now. We need big changes on the playing staff, and I'll do it given the chance. Talks are to start next week over the job."

Gillingham, who won 1-0 at Notts County thanks to Carl Asaba's 75th-minute goal, finished fourth and have home advantage in their second leg play off against Preston.

York join previously relegated Macclesfield in the drop but Wycombe Wanderers escaped when Paul Emblen scored his second winning goal of the week to beat Lincoln City, 1-0 at Sincil Bank, and send the Imps into the Third Division.

Lawrie Sanchez, the Wanderers manager, was delighted. "I said to the players this week that one of them could be a hero and it turned out to be Emblen. All people remember is goals, Sean Devine kept us in the hunt with eight goals in 10 games, but Emblen scores twice in the last week and people will say he kept us up."

Sanchez added: "It has been 16 hard weeks since I came here. I'm not going to be in this situation next season. If we are doing any worrying it will be if we go up or not."

But Northampton Town did not escape the drop when they were held 2-2 by Burnley at Sixfield Stadium.

Not every chairman turning his attention to team matters is a prelude to disaster. Ron Noades, the owner of Brentford, guided them to the Third Division championship when the Bees won 1-0 at Cambridge United, Lloyd Owusu scoring just after the hour. Cambridge finished second, while third- placed Cardiff City, who also secured their promotion some weeks ago, ended the season with a 3-0 defeat at Mansfield.

The season's work is not yet over for Scunthorpe United, Rotherham United, Leyton Orient and Swansea City who will contest the Third Division play- offs. Scunthorpe lost 1-0 to Darlington but stayed fourth with home advantage in the second leg of their semi-final play-off against Swansea City.

The division's other play-off is between Leyton Orient - Amara Simba scored both goals in their 2-2 draw with Barnet at Brisbane Road - and Rotherham United, who drew 1-1 at Chester City.

However, the match left a bad taste in the mouth of the Rotherham manager Ronnie Moore, who accused Chester players of making racist remarks to his striker, Leo Fortune-West and will report the club to the Football Association. "We are trying to keep racism out of football," Moore said. "Chester were playing well enough and did not have to resort to those kind of tactics." The Chester defender Darren Moss was lucky not to be sent off for a challenge on Fortune-West, who minutes earlier had brought him down. Both were later substituted.