The Sheffield United striker Paul Peschisolido scored a hat-trick as the Blades won 3-0 at Gillingham to stay within two points of a Nationwide First Division automatic promotion place with a game in hand over second-placed West Bromwich. Wayne Allison headed over from four yards early on for the Yorkshire side, but in the 38th minute he headed a long ball for Peschisolido to calmly lift his shot over the advancing Gills keeper, Nico Vaesen. A diving header 20 minutes later made it 2-0, and a sharp finish inside Vaesen's near post wrapped up the win.
But promotion rivals Ipswich Town and Wigan Athletic dropped points. The former were held to a 1-1 draw at fellow play-off contenders Reading, who took the lead just after the hour when a long punt from goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann found winger Scott Murray. His cross picked out Lloyd Owusu, who headed in.
Joe Royle, the Ipswich manager, immediately sent on substitute Martin Reuser and 10 minutes later his corner evaded everyone except John McGreal at the far post and he equalised from two yards. Ipswich slipped to sixth.
"We are shot-shy at the moment, which is strange for a side who are leading scorers in this league," Royle complained. "Technically we played well but it didn't look as if we had a goal in us."
Wigan slipped to seventh after a goalless home draw with Millwall. Athletic need goals and manager Paul Jewell hopes to sign the West Bromwich striker Jason Roberts next week. "We've made a bid and I think it has been accepted. We're waiting to hear. Maybe their fax machine has broken. The player is keen to come," Jewell added.
At the bottom, Wimbledon lost 1-0 at Crewe Alexandra, Steve Jones scoring his 14th goal of the season, and Derby County went down 2-1 at Stoke City. Iain Dowie, the new Crystal Palace manager, took his players for a dip last week to give their training a splash of variety but they still floundered against a stubborn Burnley. The point from the 0-0 draw lifted the Clarets five points above the bottom three.
While Spurs and Bolton moan about losing a player to the African Nations' Cup, Coventry City are losing two, Moroccan Youssef Safri and Yazid Mansouri of Algeria. Only Safri was in the Sky Blues side against Watford and his shot that hit the post was as close as either side came to breaking the deadlock at Highfield Road. It ended 0-0.
Ronnie Moore, the Rotherham United manager, had warned his side not to get distracted by thoughts of meeting Manchester United if they win next week's FA Cup replay against Northampton Town. His words seemed to have had the desired effect as they raced into a 2-0 lead in the first nine minutes at Cardiff City.
But Cardiff staged a remarkable recovery. Peter Thorne headed his ninth goal in nine games, Graham Kavanagh equalised and Robert Earnshaw's 22nd goal of the season gave the Bluebirds a 3-2 win. And it all happened in the first half. "If we keep defending in that way, then we could go down," Moore said.
In the Second Division, the the leaders, Plymouth Argyle, were held to a goalless draw at Grimsby Town, which allowed second-placed Queen's Park Rangers to close the gap to two points after Martin Rowlands scored the only goal of their match at Blackpool.
Hull City went back to the top of the Third Division, on goal difference, thanks to a 1-0 win at Darlington and to Lincoln City forcing a goalless draw at Oxford United, who slipped to second. Third-placed Doncaster Rovers thrashed Leyton Orient 5-0, Leo Fortune-West scoring a hat-trick in the first 18 minutes.
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