The basic requirement of a side seeking promotion from the Coca-Cola Championship - good home form - shines like a beacon at Deepdale, where Preston North End earned their 11th home win of the season, a total surpassed only by the leaders, Ipswich Town, to move into the play-off places. But it was never a simple victory and visitors Coventry City drew first blood when, after 14 minutes, Claus Jorgensen headed in.
"I had been telling the players all week that this was going to be a very scrappy game," Billy Davies, the Preston manager, admitted. "The opposition are fighting for their lives and we never really passed the ball, and didn't look composed."
None the less they drew level midway through the first half with their first scoring opportunity. Adrian Williams brought down Matthew Hill and Graham Alexander tucked away the penalty kick. A minute later Richard Cresswell thumped in his 16th goal of the season, and three minutes after half-time Chris Lucketti made it 3-1. The Sky Blues weren't finished, and Gary McSheffrey scored 18 minutes from the final whistle to make it 3-2. But Preston held on to go sixth.
Fourth-placed Reading's home form - 10 wins, one defeat - has forced recent visitors to the Madejski Stadium to arrive primed for defence in depth, and the Royals could find no way through the ranks of Plymouth Argyle. It ended 0-0.
"I said a month ago that we could finish second or mid-table and that's still the case," the Reading manager, Steve Coppell, reasoned. "It's the teams that are investing in their squads that will be successful at the end of the season. The other Leagues are a mirror image of what is happening in the Premiership."
Both Argyle and Coventry are still in some relegation peril, but not in as much as bottom club Rotherham United and Nottingham Forest, a place above them, who met at Millmoor. The goalless draw did no good to either side. "Both teams wanted to win, but no one wanted to lose, and that resulted in a scrappy game," Rotherham's caretaker-manager, Alan Knill, con-cluded. "The massive thing for us was keeping a clean sheet. I cannot remember the last time we did that." Forest have not won away all season; the Millers have taken three points at home only once.
Gillingham, the third club in the relegation places, had no luck in their 2-0 defeat at Watford, who took the lead when Danny Webber's run and shot was guided into his own net by Barry Ashby after 23 minutes. The Gills pressed in the second half, hit the woodwork twice but were undone when substitute Chris Eagles, on loan from Manchester United, scored in the 90th minute. "It's the first time we have come off for a very long time feeling we have had a bit of luck," Watford manager, Ray Lewington, said.
Back among the play-off aspirants, the London derby between Millwall and Queen's Park Rangers, who should have had a penalty in the closing minutes at the New Den, both managers agreed, finished 0-0. And relegated Leeds United are at last showing signs of a late run to the top six. They moved to within five points of the play-offs thanks to a 1-0 win at Burnley. The game turned Leeds's way just after the hour when Gylfi Einarsson headed in. The Clarets' defender Frank Sinclair was sent off for a second booking soon after and Ian Moore missed a Burnley penalty.
At the Walkers Stadium, Leicester City drew 1-1 with visitors Crewe Alexandra, Keith Gillespie scoring his first goal since April 2002 to stretch Leicester's undefeated run to seven matches.
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