Evans conquers nerves as Argyle sweat to Second Division title

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The Independent Online

Bobby Williamson, manager of Plymouth Argyle for less than a week, saw the team secure promotion to the Nationwide First Division and lift the Second Division championship when second-half goals by Micky Evans and David Friio set up the 2-0 win over second-placed Queen's Park Rangers at Home Park.

Bobby Williamson, manager of Plymouth Argyle for less than a week, saw the team secure promotion to the Nationwide First Division and lift the Second Division championship when second-half goals by Micky Evans and David Friio set up the 2-0 win over second-placed Queen's Park Rangers at Home Park.

Williamson, the former Hibernian manager, watched from the directors' box as Kevin Summerfield and John Blackley, caretaker managers since Paul Sturrock left for Southampton, took charge from the dug-out. Argyle eventually overcame their nerves, and Rangers, when Evans' 14th goal of the season broke the deadlock nine minutes from the end. Friio made it safe five minutes later to confirm Argyle's second promotion in three seasons. The other issue mathematically settled yesterday was Notts County's relegation to the Third Division.

The race to claim the First Division play-off places could hardly be closer after wins for West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Reading and defeats for Ipswich Town and Millwall.

Fourth-placed Ipswich lost 2-1 at home to Nottingham Forest, who are safe from relegation. Forest's goals came from an inevitable source, the former Ipswich striker David Johnson. "I had the feeling that this match could be the trickiest of our final three," Joe Royle, the Ipswich manager admitted. Yet on Friday they go to Sheffield United.

Meanwhile, the Hammers moved up to fifth, a point behind Ipswich, thanks to a 2-0 win at Stoke City. The London side went ahead through David Connolly's sharp turn and shot in the 39th minute. Marlon Harewood's header wrapped it up. "I thought we were excellent from back to front," West Ham manager Alan Pardew said. "I've no idea how many points we will need to get into the play-offs, but we're in the driving seat."

Iain Dowie's transformation of Crystal Palace has been profound and yesterday's 3-2 win at Crewe, courtesy of an Andy Johnson hat-trick, kept them level on points with West Ham. Johnson's first goal came after a long ball on the half-hour; the second, four minutes later, was from a more measured pass, by Danny Granville; the third was a penalty kick after Steve Foster had fouled Johnson. The striker's goal tally this season is 30. "Five wins and a draw in six games is a gargantuan effort," Dowie said. "It's all about heart and soul now."

Sheffield United halted a run of indifferent results when Jack Lester's 49th-minute penalty was sufficient to beat Walsall 1-0 at the Bescot Stadium and send the Saddlers into the bottom three.

Imminent involvement in the FA Cup final has clearly deflected the minds of Millwall's players. Their play-offs hopes faded again after Shaun Goater's goal gave Reading a 1-0 win at the New Den. "If I'm honest that's us gone," the Lions assistant manager, Ray Wilkins, said. "The good news was [Manchester] United got beat today, it proves they're only human. We've got to be at our best if we're going to play those herberts in the Cup final."

In the fight to avoid joining Bradford City and Wimbledon in the Second Division next season, Gillingham scrambled out of the bottom three by beating the Dons 2-1 at Milton Keynes, while in the relegation battle at Turf Moor between Burnley and Derby, Graham Branch scored the only goal to ease the Clarets' worries. In the Third Division, promoted Doncaster edged closer to the championship by beating bottom club York 3-1. With a minus-30 goal difference, they will play in the Conference next season.

THE KEY ISSUES

The Premiership: Arsenal will clinch the title if they win at Tottenham today, and Chelsea lose. Wolves, Leicester and Leeds are in most danger; the last must beat Portsmouth today.

First Division: Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion are promoted; Wimbledon and Bradford City are relegated. Eight sides battle for four play-off berths.

Second Division: Plymouth Argyle are champions with Queen's Park Rangers or Bristol City also contesting automatic promotion. Notts County and Wycombe are relegated.

Third Division: Doncaster Rovers are promoted, with Hull and Huddersfield favourites to go up automatically; escapologists Carlisle United, and York City, look doomed.

The Conference: Chester City are champions with Hereford, Shrewsbury, Barnet and Aldershot in the play-offs.

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