Preston's sprint start far too sharp for Blades

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The Independent Football

Preston North End's return to the upper reaches of the Football League has been something of a triumph, starting with two wins and second place in the Nationwide First Division. In Deepdale's first match at this level for 20 years, North End scored in each of their first two attacks against Sheffield United. With only 63 seconds on the watch, Rob Edwards' throw-in set Michael Appleton free and he scored from 10 yards.

Preston North End's return to the upper reaches of the Football League has been something of a triumph, starting with two wins and second place in the Nationwide First Division. In Deepdale's first match at this level for 20 years, North End scored in each of their first two attacks against Sheffield United. With only 63 seconds on the watch, Rob Edwards' throw-in set Michael Appleton free and he scored from 10 yards.

In the sixth minute, Jon Macken, a former Manchester United youth player who, like Appleton, had scored in last week's win at Grimsby, collected a long ball, turned a defender and fired in. He added a third, and 10 minutes from time the Blades' woeful day was complete when Paul Devlin was sent off for violent conduct as Preston ran out 3-0 winners.

Stockport County's 1-1 home draw with Wolves, who overran them, lifted them to fourth with four points. County's scorer was Ian Moore, his third goal of the season.

Nottingham Forest also have four points, mostly thanks to goalkeeper Dave Beasant, who kept Norwich City at bay in the 0-0 draw at Carrow Road. Last week the Canaries sold their striker Craig Bellamy.

If their opening fanfare is anything to go by, promoted Gillingham will find the season even more of a struggle than many predicted. Yesterday they were 2-0 down to two headers by Wayne Gill and Sean Flynn in nine minutes at Tranmere Rovers, and although Carl Asaba pulled one back, Clint Hill shot home from 20 yards to re-establish Rovers' two-goal lead. A Nicky Southall penalty gave the Gills some hope, but they had Barry Ashby sent off as Rovers won 3-2.

The Gills' player-manager, Andy Hessenthaler, said: "We lost the game in the first few minutes really. We defended poorly and got punished for it." Same as last week, then.

Bolton won 2-0 at West Bromwich Albion to give themselves a four-point start. Per Frandsen and Bo Hansen set up Isaiah Rankin for Wanderers' first goal. Gareth Farrelly wrapped it up. Albion, like the Gills, have no points.

Promoted Burnley are also on four points after beating relegated Wimbledon 1-0 at Turf Moor. Paul Weller left the Dons in something of a jam when he dashed from the half-way line and fooled Alan Kimble before firing in. Wimbledon rarely threatened, the Dons' fighting spirit a notable absentee. Another of the relegated sides, Sheffield Wednesday, also await a first win following a 3-2 home defeat in the Yorkshire derby with Huddersfield Town. The Terriers raced into a 3-0 lead, Martin Smith scoring twice. Wednesday's Andy Booth, who may soon be a Huddersfield player, pulled one back, but despite a strong second-half rally The Owls weren't wise enough to conjure an equaliser.

In the Second Division, Millwall and Walsall are the only two sides with maximum points. The Lions never trailed as they won a dramatic encounter 4-3 at Notts County, but Walsall came back from 2-1 down at home to Oldham Athletic to win 3-2.

In the Third Division there are perfect starts for Chesterfield, Leyton Orient, and Scunthorpe United.

Chester City made an uncomfortable transition to non-League football with a 2-0 defeat at Rushden & Diamonds, who as usual are hot favourites for promotion from the Nationwide Conference.

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