Nationwide review Trick stuns not so solid Crewe

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The Independent Football

Coventry City's faltering steps toward the Nationwide First Division play-offs, which had given way to a confident stride while beating Rotherham United on Wednesday night, broke into a frantic charge during their second win in four days, a 6-1 thrashing of hapless Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road.

Lee Hughes, left out of the Rotherham game because he looked tired in training, scored a hat-trick and Laurent Delorge netted twice as The Sky Blues meted out the maximum punishment on slack defending at all Crewe stations. Dario Gradi took off goalkeeper Ademole Bankole. "He'd had enough, I just saved him from a bit more."

"We have been waiting for that for some time," Roland Nilsson, the Coventry boss, said. "We knew it was coming because we have been creating chances. Lee responded well to being left out."

The win lifted his side into the play-off places, two points behind fifth-placed Burnley, who drew 1-1 at Barnsley. The Tykes had not lost in their 11 previous matches and got off to a flying start at Oakwell when Darren Barnard fired in a free-kick in the sixth minute. Gareth Taylor got The Clarets' deserved equaliser.

"The league is tight but we are now coming back to our best," Burnley's manager, Stan Ternent, said. "It would be marvellous if we can get promotion, but if not we'll have a strong side for next season."

With a strong whiff of relegation in the air at the Bescot Stadium, Walsall's new manager, Colin Lee, brought in the Brazilian striker Marcelo and midfielder Martin O'Connor from neighbours Birmingham City, but they made little impact as The Saddlers went down 3-0 at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

The Owls went ahead just after the half-hour courtesy of Efan Ekoku's header and after David Holdsworth had been sent off Walsall fell further behind. Shefki Kuqi and Gerald Sibon completed the scoring as Walsall replaced Wednesday in the drop zone.

"Our final ball was poor, the execution of free-kicks frustrating and our defending from set-pieces abysmal," Lee admitted. Work to do, then.

Wednesday's neighbours Sheffield United had better luck with their Brum striker. Paul Furlong, signed on a month's loan, scored twice in The Blades' thrilling 4-3 defeat of visitors Portsmouth.

Pompey, who drew 4-4 last Saturday, went ahead through Peter Crouch but were 3-1 behind at the break, Furlong, Nick Montgomery and Carl Asaba on target. The South Coast side levelled through Robert Prosinecki and Nigel Quashie only for Furlong, deep into added time, to score the winning penalty.

"If it hadn't have been for him we wouldn't have won today," Neil Warnock, the Sheffield manager, agreed.

Bottom-of-the-table Stockport County gave their manager Carlton Palmer a year's extension on his contract, presumably to rebuild after relegation, and his young side were certainly not disgraced in the 3-2 defeat at Rotherham. The Millers were grateful to Mark Robins, who scored twice, and goalkeeper Mark Pollitt, who saved Luke Beckett's injury-time penalty.

The Second Division's top two left their most reliable scorers on the bench but the introduction of them as substitutes had very different results. When Reading's Jamie Cureton came on against Notts County at the Madejski Stadium he grabbed their late winner, the 2-1 victory taking them seven points clear.

Brighton's coveted leading scorer Bobby Zamora was left out of the starting line-up at Oldham, came on late, but was sent off. Brighton lost 2-0.

In the Third Division, the leaders Plymouth left it late against Mansfield but David Friio's 85th-minute strike won the match. They are 10 points clear of second-placed Luton, who had David Bayliss sent off at Rochdale and lost 1-0.