Adam Lallana's two goals gave the Championship leaders Southampton a 2-0 win over Barnsley and Saints now lead by three points after second-placed West Ham were held to a fourth consecutive home draw, 1-1 by Doncaster Rovers. Reading, third, moved level on points with the faltering Hammers after a comfortable 3-1 home win over Leicester City.
Saints and the Royals were rarely troubled in their wins but at Upton Park, after Kevin Nolan prodded in to cap a bright West Ham start, the hosts were unsettled when Ricardo Vaz Te went off with a hamstring injury. Rovers rallied and merited the point earned by James Coppinger's close-range effort.
"We just didn't finish them off when we had the chances early on," the West Ham manager, Sam Allardyce, said. "We are not going to panic. The Southampton draw felt like a win but the [other] three draws have been disappointing."
Below the top three comes more stumbling and stuttering. Blackpool lost 3-1 at Peterborough United to slip out of the top six as did Birmingham City after a 1-1 draw at Coventry City where the Blues' Marlon King levelled against his former club. Brighton made the day's big gain, substitute Rodriguez Vicente scoring twice as the 2-0 defeat of Portsmouth lifted them to fifth.
Own goals by Stephen McManus and Kalifa Cissé handed Cardiff City a 2-1 win at Bristol City, taking them up to sixth, while Grant Leadbitter's two goals in four second-half minutes helped Ipswich Town recover to draw 2-2 at Hull City.
At Turf Moor, Burnley and Crystal Palace swapped penalties and the south Londoners had Wilfried Zaha sent off in the 1-1 draw, and goals by Sean Murray and Troy Deeney in the first 15 minutes at Pride Park saw visitors Watford beat Derby County 2-1. Nottingham Forest picked up three crucial points in the 3-1 home win over Millwall.
Jonathan Forte scored a hat-trick in 22 first-half minutes as Charlton lost at home for the second match running, 4-2 to Notts County, but still have a 10-point lead. Second-placed Sheffield United won 2-0 at Brentford; Sheffield Wednesday, a point behind their neighbours, beat Bournemouth 3-0.
Paul Benson's 35th-minute strike gave leaders Swindon Town a 1-0 win over Cheltenham, who lost second place to Shrewsbury, 1-0 winners over Burton Albion.