Mooney makes mark as Birmingham confound Clarets

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The Independent Football

Birmingham City boosted their hopes of a place in the First Division promotion play-offs with a deserved 1-0 victory at Burnley last night.

Tommy Mooney scored the only goal of the game midway through the first half to effectively end Burnley's hopes of automatic promotion. The Blues were simply too good for the home side, who failed to create a decent chance at any point in a lacklustre display.

Birmingham could have secured a more convincing win but for the outstanding display of the Clarets' goalkeeper Marlon Beresford.

Mooney's goal came following a lively burst of right-wing play by Paul Devlin, who hit a deep cross for the City striker to head home from eight yards. Before that goal, Beresford had saved well from both Mooney and Curtis Woodhouse.

The second half saw Birmingham content to defend in numbers and attempt break-away moves. Burnley never threatened but the visitors could have scored again had Beresford not saved well from Mooney and the substitute Stan Lazaridis.

The pressure on the Watford manager Gianluca Vialli lifted as his side clung on for a 2-1 success against the play-off hopefuls Norwich City at Vicarage Road. The Hornets raced into a two-goal lead through Micah Hyde and Allan Nielsen; Norwich pulled one back through Iwan Roberts but could not find an equaliser.

Portsmouth's giant forward Peter Crouch gave his under-pressure manager Graham Rix some much-needed relief with the winner against the play-off chasers Coventry City at Fratton Park. Crouch hit the net in the 54th minute in a 1-0 win.

Crystal Palace ruthlessly ravaged Barnsley at rainy Oakwell, running up a 4-1 win. Dougie Freedman put the Eagles ahead before Bruce Dyer levelled against his old club but it was one-way traffic from then on as Aki Riihilahti , Ade Akinbiyi – with his first goal for the club since joining from Leicester City for £2.4m, and Julian Gray hit the net.

Stockport County's player-manager Carlton Palmer scored but was later sent off for foul and abusive language as his side went down 3-1 at Grimsby Town. County, 21 points adrift of a safe place in the table, look doomed.

In the Second Division, Reading pressed on towards the title with a 2-0 victory at Adams Park as the Royals roared over their local rivals Wycombe Wanderers. Goals by Jamie Cureton and Darius Henderson sent the visiting fans home happy.

Second-placed Brighton slipped six points behind Alan Pardew's men as they could only draw 1-1 at relegation-haunted Bournemouth. Paul Brooker equalised a minute after Derek Holmes had given the home side the lead.

The Third Division leaders Plymouth Argyle look certain of promotion after a 3-0 Devon derby win over Exeter City in front a season's best crowd in the division of 16,369 at Home Park. Two goals from the Scottish striker Marino Keith and one from Steve Adams took the Pilgrims 19 points clear of the play-off places.