Every Liddell helps as Wigan hit the top again

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Three 1-0 wins offered ample evidence of just how close the Nationwide First Division promotion race will be. At the JJB Stadium, Andy Liddell equalled David Lowe's club record of 66 goals when he scored the only goal in Wigan Athletic's unconvincing win over Gillingham which took the Latics back to the top.

Ten minutes into the second half Liddell was felled by Paul Smith and converted the penalty kick. "This was a woeful display," Paul Jewell, the Wigan manager, admitted, "but we are grateful for the victory."

West Bromwich Albion, also narrow winners, at home to Norwich City, are second after Jason Koumas scored the game's only goal in the 35th minute, curling in a fine shot after a four-man build-up. "It was a well-worked move finished by a very talented player 20 yards out who can do that week in, week out," Gary Megson, his manager, glowed.

And Sunderland moved up to fourth when Marcus Stewart scored three minutes before half-time as they beat Walsall 1-0 at the Stadium of Light. The Saddlers had defender Chris Baird, on loan from Southampton, sent off.

Reading trailed twice at home to Preston North End but a twice-taken penalty by Shaun Goater and further goals from John Mackie and Nicky Forster earned a 3-2 win to continue their manager Steve Coppell's winning start. Ipswich Town went sixth after a 1-0 win over Stoke City.

At the bottom, Wimbledon are already eight points adrift of safety and their fragile confidence took another battering in a 6-0 hammering at Nottingham Forest.

"I picked the wrong formation," the Dons' manager, Stuart Murdoch, owned up, "but we have to defend better than we did throughout the game."

Above the Dons, Watford's 1-0 defeat of Bradford City at Vicarage Road lifted them out of the bottom three and struggling Rotherham United picked up a point from a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.

Elsewhere, Cardiff City won 3-1 at Coventry City, the Bluebirds' Robert Earnshaw scoring his 15th goal of the season, and Crewe welcomed back Dario Gradi 25 days after heart surgery with a 3-0 defeat of Derby County. "I was checking my pulse throughout and it never got above 90, which was good," Gradi said.

At the top of the Second Division, the leaders, Brighton, lost 1-0 at Bournemouth. Plymouth Argyle thrashed Port Vale 5-1 at Vale Park to go second. At the bottom, Chesterfield won for the first time this season beating Swindon 3-0.

Brian Little celebrated his return to management, at Tranmere, with a 2-1 defeat of Oldham while former Northern Ireland manager Sammy McIlroy's first match in charge of Stockport ended in a 2-2 draw with Notts County.

But a sixth defeat in seven games, 2-0 at home to Rochdale, saw Bobby Gould resign as manager of Third Division Cheltenham Town. Steve Cotterill, who took the Robins into the League, is out of a job at present.

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