Most of the pacemakers in the Nationwide First Division - Sheffield United, Norwich City, Sunderland, Wigan - dropped points and mid-table teams won to increase the congestion among the leaders.
Surprisingly beaten at home by Watford last Saturday, Norwich were held to a 0-0 draw at Preston North End but still moved up to second because their East Anglian neighbours, Ipswich Town, blunted Sheffield United's challenge with a comfortable 3-0 win at Portman Road.
"A point away from home is a very worthy point. I'm very pleased," Nigel Worthington, the Canaries manager, said. "We are back to where we were pre-Watford. There was energy, commitment and quality. There is guts and determination, that's what any team need."
In Suffolk, having turned down two good penalty appeals for the Blades, referee Mick Fletcher awarded Ipswich one after Chris Morgan brought down Shefki Kuqi. He converted the kick and goals by Ian Westlake and Darren Bent took Joe Royle's side into the play-off places. "We have played better football and passed the ball more fluently," Royle said, "but in view of the calibre of the opposition this must rate as our best performance of the season."
The challenges of promoted Wigan and relegated Sunderland stalled when the Latics were given a scare by Nottingham Forest in a 2-2 draw at the J J B Stadium and the Wearsiders were swept aside by three goals in 10 minutes at Crewe.
Wigan led 1-0, though Nathan Ellington, and trailed 2-1 before Andy Liddell grabbed the equaliser. "There are some dejected players in our dressing room because we thought we should have won," Paul Jewell, the Wigan manager said.
Meanwhile, at Crewe, Sunderland were caught square as first Dean Ashton (53 minutes) and then Steve Jones (55) scored. Jones soon added Alex's third. "We could have been 3-0 up in the first half but we didn't score when we played well and they did," Mick McCarthy, the visitors' manager, said. "Their forwards were better than ours."
Any Cardiff inhabitants seeking a lift after Wales' disappointment on Wednesday night could take some comfort from the continuing progress of the local side. They dug in for a won 1-0 at bottom-of-the-table Wimbledon 1-0 when Gary Croft's cross sailed into the net. "It wasn't pretty," manager Lennie Lawrence admitted, "but we survived today to maintain our challenge on the play-offs."
Elsewhere at the bottom, Bradford City lost 1-0 at Stoke City and John Mullin's equaliser earned Rotherham United a point from a 1-1 draw at Burnley, but they stay in the bottom three.
The two First Division sides left in south London both drew 0-0, Millwall with Derby County at the New Den, and Crystal Palace at Walsall. And Coventry City's Julian Joachim and Gillingham's Tommy Johnson both scored twice as the teams drew 2-2 at Highfield Road.
The Coventry manager, Gary McAllister, isn't happy. "That wasn't good enough, there wasn't a desire to win. There are enough experienced people in that dressing room and it's up to them to stand up and be counted."
Queen's Park Rangers' 1-1 draw at Swindon Town kept them top of Second Division, while Oxford United are the new leaders in the Third Division after 3-1 win over Macclesfield and Hull City's goalless draw at Yeovil.Reuse content