On a day that promised to see many promotion and relegation issues settled, only Hereford of League Two were left celebrating. Their 3-0 win at Brentford, Gary Hooper, Theo Robinson and Simon Johnson scoring, and Stockport County's 2-1 defeat at Barnet saw the Bulls join champions Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United in taking a step up. For the rest, it means a tense final weekend to come.
In the Championship, Stoke City had one of the easiest games of the programme, at relegated Colchester United, who were playing their final match at Layer Road. They duly won 1-0 after a Rory Delap long throw, Richard Cresswell diverting in Liam Lawrence's shot on the stroke of half-time. The Potters went to the top of the table, a point ahead of West Bromwich Albion, who play Southampton, now in the bottom three, tomorrow night.
"The best thing to come out of today is that it is in our own hands," said Tony Pulis, Stoke's manager. "The big thing is it will be at the Britannia [Stadium], it will be sold out and the place will be rocking." It will also be against Leicester City, who are fighting for survival at the bottom.
Hull City, the only side who can catch the top two, left it late against Crystal Palace at the KC Stadium, but with five minutes to go captain Ian Ashbee headedin Dean Marney's corner to seal a 2-1 win. Fraizer Campbell, on loan from Manchester United, had given the Tigers an 18th-minute lead, but Scott Sinclair, on loan from Chelsea, equalised 20 minutes later.
"The second-half performance was powerful and certainlyworthy of winning the game," Phil Brown, the Hull manager, said, "particularly as they only had one shot on target in the entire match. Next weekend is a must-win game, but if the players can handle the pressure here, they can against Ipswich."
Nor was Neil Warnock, the Palace manager, too down-hearted. "The pleasing thing is that it is still in our hands to make the play-offs," he said. "I didn't really see a threat coming from them, so to give away a goal to a free header is disappointing.
"We can only get stronger, though, and we've really enjoyed the second half of the season. No one can complain if we don't make the play-offs, because we've given it a fantastic shot, and we've already surpassed everyone's expectations this season." Palace finish at home to Burnley.
Like the Potters, Watford had an apparently simple task of plundering a relegated side, but the Hornets are in dreadful form and have won just once in the past 13 matches after a 1-0 home defeat by Scunthorpe United, Paul Hayes scoring.
"We can debate all we like about what we do and how we do it, but the bottom line is that we have a team that fear the finishing line," Adrian Boothroyd, the Hornets manager, said. "We'll have to wait and see how we deal with it." They go to Blackpool.
Wolves, Ipswich Town or Sheffield United could still scramble into the play-off places next Sunday. Wolves, seventh and a point off the top six, came from behind to salvage a point from a 1-1 draw at Coventry City through Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's 53rd-minute penalty, while Ipswich drew 2-2 at Preston North End thanks to Jonathan Walters' 87th-minute leveller. But the Blades are the form team and made it eight wins in 10 matches when Gary Speed scored both goals in a 2-1 defeat of Bristol City, who remain fourth but have a negative goal difference, at Bramall Lane. Speed's first, a header, was the 100th goal of the midfielder's career.
"Eight weeks ago we were four points off relegation," Kevin Blackwell, the Blades manager, pointed out, "so I can't praise the players enough for what they've done. We're the people that everyone is looking over their shoulders at." United's final match is at Southampton.
In the big relegation meeting at the Walkers Stadium, Sheffield Wednesday sprang out of the bottom three with a 3-1 win over Leicester City. Bartosz Slusarski,Steve Watson and Leon Clarke scored, and both sides contrived to miss a penalty.
Barnsley ensured survival by beating Charlton Athletic 3-0 at Oakwell, and Norwich City did likewise with a 3-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers at Carrow Road. Rangers' Damion Stewart was sent off after just five minutes. Blackpool are still in trouble after a 3-0 defeat at Plymouth.
Cardiff City limbered up for their FA Cup Final with an eventful 3-3 draw at Burnley. The Bluebirds' Darren Purse was sent off for a foul on Andy Cole. Dave Jones, the Cardiff manager, suggested Cole had overreacted.
"I have 10 stitches in my leg," Cole said. "I have played the game at the highest level for 18 years and some muppet challenges me like that. It's David Jones who should take a long look at himself; after the career I've had, what he thinks is irrelevant."
Owen Coyle, his manager, agreed. "His leg is a terrible mess, there is a chunk out of it."Reuse content