League round-up: Gera the hero as Baggies close in on promised land
On a day when nerves at the top and bottom of the Championship appeared to get the better of contenders and strugglers alike, West Bromwich Albion emerged as the calmest. Their 2-1 win at Norwich City opened up a five-point lead over third-placed Hull City.
Albion got off to the best possible start. Kevin Phillips' second-minute shot was parried by David Marshall, which set up a tap-in for Robert Koren. Zoltan Gera had already hit the bar when, in the 71st minute, he fired in the Baggies' second. A Ched Evans penalty was the cue for a frantic finish as the Canaries pushed for an equaliser.
"In this game you are never there until you are there. There's still a job to be done and we haven't done it yet," the cautious Albion manager, Tony Mowbray, said. "But all credit to the players because they've had to play six games in the space of 18 days and it hasn't been easy."
Mamady Sidibe scored two first-half goals as Stoke City beat Bristol City 2-1 to move above Hull City into second place after the Tigers lost 2-0 at 10-man Sheffield United. The Blades had Chris Morgan sent off for a second yellow card on the stroke of half-time, but goals by Stephen Quinn and James Beattie, from a penalty, saw Hull's promotion plans upset. "We didn't perform," the disappointed Hull manager,Phil Brown, said.
Fifth entertained sixth at Vicarage Road, where the hosts Watford's experience and strength was undone by Crystal Palace's youth and pace. Substitute Paul Ifill fired in left-footed after 71 minutes and four minutes later Palace's exciting young winger Victor Moses made it 2-0.
But the sides just outside the top six are beginning to fall away. Only Tommy Miller's late strike for Ipswich Town that earned a point from a 1-1 draw at Wolves was of real use. Ipswich are three points off a play-off place. Wolves are another two adrift but do have a game more to play.
Charlton Athletic's hopes were extinguished by a 1-0 defeat at Queens Park Rangers, and Plymouth Argyle's dream ended when Richard Chaplow's 90th-minute strike saw Preston North End draw 2-2 at Home Park. Cardiff City stalled, too, beaten 3-2 at relegated Scunthorpe United; they can now focus on their FA Cup Final preparations.
Seven teams are in danger of filling the final relegation berth. A 2-1 defeat at Blackpool saw Sheffield Wednesday drop back into the bottom three. Southampton are just a point ahead of the Owls after they lost 1-0 at home to Burnley. Saints go to West Bromwich next. But there were wins for Leicester City, 1-0 at Barnsley, and Coventry City, who won 5-1 at relegated Colchester United after trailing at half-time.
Swansea City claimed the League One title despite losing 2-1 at home to Yeovil because Southend United won 2-1 at Carlisle United. In League Two, Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United both won promotion after wins at Stockport County and Hereford respectively. Finally, Hamilton's 2-0 win over Clyde sealed their promotion to the Scottish Premier.
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