Hulse's double celebration puts West Brom back on top

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The Independent Football

Rob Hulse celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday by scoring twice in the second half as West Bromwich Albion beat Rotherham United 3-0 at Millmoor to lift Gary Megson's side back to the top of the Nationwide First Division.

It was an important win after last Tuesday's home defeat to bottom side Wimbledon, Megson said. In fact, the Millers held out until six minutes before the interval, when their defender Shaun Barker, under pressure from Hulse, turned Jason Koumas's cross into his own net.

"It took us some time to get the breakthrough, but once we got in front it was a good performance," Megson said.

Four minutes into the second half Andy Johnson picked out Hulse who made it 2-0, and the former Crewe striker doubled his tally just past the hour, his seventh League goal of the season.

Norwich City kept the country's only 100 per cent home record intact when the former Wimbledon striker Damien Francis thumped in a poor clearance from Paul McVeigh's 33rd-minute corner to give the Canaries a 1-0 win over Sunderland at Carrow Road. Tempers frayed in the second half as the Wearsiders pressed and their winger John Oster was sent off for striking out at Norwich's captain, Adam Drury. It was Sunderland's first defeat in seven matches.

Norwich's neighbours Ipswich needed a Pablo Counago penalty midway through the second half at Deepdale to earn a 1-1 draw with Preston North End. David Healy had given Craig Brown's side the lead, heading in Richard Cresswell's 21st-minute cross.

Nottingham Forest inflicted more pain on struggling Bradford City when Andy Reid orchestrated their downfall in a 2-1 win at Valley Parade. He set up the former Bradford midfielder Eoin Jess's equaliser and scored the injury-time winner, his eighth goal of the season, as Forest won 2-1.

"He was forced on to his right foot," Paul Hart, the Forest manager, observed. "He has a wonderful left foot but I have told him that if he wants to play in the Premiership he must bring his right foot into use." Bradford paid the price.

Dennis Wise remains unbeaten as caretaker manager of Millwall after a 1-1 draw at Burnley. Noel Whelan gave the Lions a 53rd-minute lead but Ian Moore levelled seven minutes later. Elsewhere, Chris Greenacre scored in injury time to earn Stoke City a 1-1 home draw with Crewe. Alex's manager, Dario Gradi, was not impressed. "Stoke kept delivering the up-and-under stuff and when you do that sometimes something happens. I would have thought it was the sort of scrappy goal Stoke score quite often."

Gillingham ignored their financial plight to beat visitors Crystal Palace 1-0, despite having Chris Hope sent off with the score 0-0 and 36 minutes still to play. Dougie Freedman missed the penalty after Hope's dismissal, and Gills' substitute, David Perpetuini scored the winner.

Player-manager Gary McAllister, back with Coventry City after compassionate leave, saw Patrick Suffo score twice as the Sky Blues beat Derby County 3-1 at Pride Park. The Rams have not won at home in six games.

Three minutes before half-time at Home Park, Marino Keith scored the only goal of the game as the Second Division leaders, Plymouth Argyle, beat Blackpool 1-0 to open up a three-point gap at the top.

Another big Third Division crowd at the Kingston Stadium, 17,453, saw Hull City tighten their grip on the Third Division leadership with a 3-0 defeat of Lincoln City. The Tigers are four points clear.