Championship round-up: Stoke go top as hat-trick for Howard sinks Baggies

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The Independent Football

"Nobody seems to want to win it," the Watford manager, Adrian Boothroyd, said of the race for automatic promotion from the Championship after a day on which none of the sides in the top five before the start won. But the point Stoke City eked out against Boothroyd's Hornets took them to the top of the table on goal difference.

The Potters' 0-0 draw was a cautious affair, made the more so by the dismissal of Watford's former Stoke midfielder John Eustace midway through the first half. The Hornets might have won, but after seeing his penalty saved at Bristol City in midweek, Darius Henderson was foiled again, this time by Carlo Nash. "Before this week, I called it the mother of all weeks," Boothroyd said of facing the top two in five days, "but it's ended up being the grandmother of all weeks, because we've not scored, but kept two clean sheets."

But there were defeats for former leaders Bristol City and West Bromwich Albion. In the West Country derby at Ashton Gate, Rory Fallon scored a goal in each half as Plymouth Argyle halted the Robins with a 2-1 victory. Lee Trundle gave Gary Johnson's side some hope with a 74th-minute penalty, but Argyle stood firm and move into the play-offs.

"If we want to win automatic promotion we will have to play a lot better than that," Johnson said. "We weren't clever enough in our approach play. Other results went for us, but it was a great opportunity missed."

Meanwhile, the fourth-placed Baggies were enduring a nightmare in the Midlands derby against Leicester City. Albion took the lead after 22 minutes through Robert Koren, but Luke Moore's reckless challenge earned a red card in the 35th minute. "Luke's sending-off did affect us," Albion's manager, Tony Mowbray, admitted. And how. Three minutes later a Gareth McAuley header made it 1-1, then Steve Howard took over, rattling in a hat-trick as Ian Holloway's side won 4-1, to move out of the bottom three. "We won't look too deeply at today," Mowbray said. "We need to move on."

Hull City moved up to fifth by thrashing Southampton 5-0. Fraizer Campbell scored in the first half, and as the fog swirled in off the Humber the Saints defence went missing and the Tigers feasted. Charlton's stumbling form got worse when goals by Owen Garvan and Danny Haynes saw Ipswich Town win 2-1 at Portman Road. Wolves are within four points of a play-off place after Burnley errors contributed to their downfall in a3-1 defeat at Turf Moor. "We totallygifted the game to Wolves," Burnley's manager, Owen Coyle, said.

The minds of Cardiff City and Barnsley showed signs of turning to their impending FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. The Tykes went down 2-0 at Crystal Palace, Tom Soares and James Scowcroft on target for Neil Warnock's young side, while Cardiff drew 1-1 at bottom club Colchester and had Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink sent off. Cardiff will appeal.

Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday, two sides in relegation difficulties, drew 0-0 at the Ricoh Stadium. The Owls drop into the bottom three, whileScunthorpe United's chances of another season in the Champion- ship looked a little bleaker after a 3-1 defeat at Queens Park Rangers.

In the North-west derby at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool and Preston North End drew 0-0. "Another point, which keeps us in a position that I would have been on my knees for at the start of this season," Simon Grayson, the manager of mid-table Blackpool, said. Billy Sharp and Matt Kilgallon scored as Sheffield United beat Norwich City 2-0.

Congratulations to East Fife, who won 3-0 at East Stirling to seal their promotion to the Scottish Second Division, and all before the clocks go forward again.

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