Round-Up: Ashton strikes twice to keep it tight at the top

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The Independent Football

Not for the first time this season, and certainly not for the last, Championship results suggested that this is going to be the most open title race in a long while. Although the leaders, Ipswich Town, stretched their lead to two points they had to come back from 2-0 down at improving Crewe Alexandra to earn a point from a 2-2 draw.

Dean Ashton, at 21 years old the latest product of the Dario Gradi school of excellence, put Alex in front with two clinical left-foot finishes to make it four goals in eight days and 17 for the season. But Joe Royle's side is more resilient this term and two goals in the first 14 minutes of the second half from Richard Naylor and Darren Bent made a point.

"Two points lost," Royle said. "I don't know how we were behind at half-time. We missed four or five chances that we would have put away with some appendage to our bodies." Wigan will go top today if they beat Preston.

Queen's Park Rangers slipped a place in the play-off berths when they lost 2-1 at Nottingham Forest. In the 15th minute, Chris Day blocked Andy Reid's penalty but the Forest winger tucked away the rebound. George Santos levelled for QPR but Jack Lester's header brought three precious points for Joe Kinnear's struggling side.

Drama at the New Den where despite playing the whole of the second half with defender Phil Jagielka in goal, Sheffield United moved to within a point of Rangers after a 2-1 win over Millwall.

After a goalless first half, a scuffle in the tunnel resulted in the Sheffield goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny, and Kevin Muscat, the Millwall defender, being red carded during half-time. When hostilities on the pitch resumed, Mark Phillips put the Lions ahead but the Blades had the sharper cutting edge and goals by Andy Liddell and Derek Geary earned three points.

"We have someone filming us this season for a TV programme, and we are hoping that our man has it on video," Neil Warnock, the Sheffield manager, revealed. "Paddy Kenny has a balloon on his forehead like you have never seen. If somebody head-butted me like somebody has head-butted Kenny, then I would chin him. We know who it is, but that is not for me to say. I will take the video to the FA myself to ensure it gets there."

Watford beat Premiership opposition in midweek to earn a League Cup semi-final with Liverpool, but knock-out progress has been book-ended by consecutive league defeats, yesterday's 1-0 loss to Stoke City at Vicarage Road coming from a goal by former Hornet Gifton Noel-Williams.

Four teams in relegation difficulties met yesterday. Dan Harding's 82nd-minute goal earned Brighton a 1-0 win over Rotherham United at the Withdean Stadium, while Peter Thorne scored twice as Cardiff City beat Gillingham 3-1 at Ninian Park.

Leicester City moved up to eighth as they beat Leeds United 2-0 at Elland Road and Derby County scored twice in the last two minutes at Pride Park to earn a 2-2 draw with luckless Coventry City while Plymouth were 1-0 winners over Burnley whose manager, Steve Cotterill, echoed our opening point. "In this league you have got to have five or six playing well to get a draw, and everyone playing well to get a result. We only had two or three playing well."

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