Big bargains as loan rangers pay dividends

Nationwide round-up
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The Independent Football

It is amazing what you can pick up in the sales at this time of year. Sheffield Wednesday paid £1 million for the Stockport County striker Shefki Kuqi on Friday, and he made an immediate impact in their struggle against relegation.

"He works very hard and makes chances for other people," Terry Yorath, the Owls' manager, had explained. Prophetic words. A minute before half-time of his debut at Hillsborough, the Finnish international broke down the right, crossed and Gerald Sibon volleyed in the only goal of the game against Crewe. Wednesday stay in the drop zone on goal difference only.

Two more newcomers were on view at Rotherham United, where their opponents, Watford, gave debuts to Australia's captain, Paul Okon, deemed surplus to Middlesbrough's requirements, and loan signing Jermaine Pennant, Arsenal's exciting England Under-21 winger. And Pennant it was who broke the deadlock, with a right-wing run and cross that Chris Swailes helped into his own net. An equaliser was the least the Millers deserved and they were rewarded with a goal and a point when Richard Barker equalised just before the hour. It ended 1-1.

"We must be the unluckiest team in the world to come away with a draw," Rotherham's manager, Ronnie Moore, moaned.

Pumped up by their FA Cup win over Bradford City, Walsall took the lead against Preston at the Bescot Stadium when a long clearance was touched on by Brett Angell and Darren Wrack finished. The Saddlers were holding on until Frederic Biancalani was sent off for stamping on Jon Macken. "It had an effect on the whole stadium, the crowd, our team and their team," Chris Nicholl, the Walsall coach, said. "It cost us the match." So it did. Iain Ander-son equalised a minute later and five minutes from time Steve Basham scored the decider. Preston's 2-1 win lifted them to eighth.

Bradford ended a run of five consecutive defeats when they came from behind to beat visitors Portsmouth 3-1. Pompey went ahead in the second minute when Linvoy Primus netted from close range after Robert Prosinecki centred. Bradford were level by the 19th minute, Gareth Grant touching in Eoin Jess's cross. Portsmouth went behind when Lee Sharpe was brought down in the Pompey area and scored the penalty. The visitors then had Jason Crowe and Carl Tiler sent off and Gunnar Halle made it 3-1.

The visitors' manager, Graham Rix, blames bad luck – Rory Allen injured a hamstring as he was warming up to come on as substitute – for his side's six defeats in seven games. "In the 11 months I've been here we've had more kicks in the teeth as a club than is normal."

Gillingham dominated the first half against Sheffield United at Priestfield but lost 1-0 when Michael Tonge's free-kick penetrated the Gills' leaky defensive wall.

Elsewhere, Grimsby Town, unbeaten in four under Paul Groves, and West Bromwich Albion, who have won only one in six, shared a goalless draw, the Mariners' third in a row. "The onus was put on us to come here and score," Gary Megson, the Albion manager, said. "The game was stifled."

Nottingham Forest's similar stalemate against Barnsley was their 12th draw of the season. "We have got to turn draws into wins," Paul Hart, the Forest manager, reasoned. "But that's been the story of our season."

Reading went to the top of the Second Division after a 1-0 win at Huddersfield, while an Andy Liddell hat-trick helped Wigan to a 3-0 win over Brighton, their first defeat under Peter Taylor.

In the Third Division, the leaders, Plymouth Argyle, beat Hull 1-0 to go two points clear at the top.