Round-Up: Preston's place in play-offs virtually sealed by Nugent

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The Independent Football

As the Coca-Cola Championship enters its final weeks, the tension at the top and bottom of the table could not have been more palpable.

As the Coca-Cola Championship enters its final weeks, the tension at the top and bottom of the table could not have been more palpable be it in the north-west, where play-off contenders Preston North End struggled before overcoming relegation threatened Cardiff City; in the Midlands, as Coventry City's efforts to avoid the drop were hampered by draw specialists Wolverhampton Wanderers; or in south-east, where the relegation candidates Gillingham and Crewe Alexandra drew in an edgy contest.

At Deepdale, the partnership between David Nugent and Richard Cresswell prevailed for fourth-placed Preston. The former, a 19-year-old signed for £100,000 from Bury in January, scored twice after an hour's toil, Cresswell supplying the crosses from the right and then left. Cresswell next robbed Chris Barker to poach the third goal, his 20th this season.

"We probably need one more win," Billy Davies, the Preston manager, reckoned.

Meanwhile, Wolves led Coventry twice at Highfield Road through Leon Clarke and Lee Naylor. But a Garry McSheffrey penalty and a late Stern John goal, thanks to Seoul Ki-Hyeon's error, gave the Sky Blues a 2-2 draw, Wolves' 21st in 43 matches.

"It was a stupid mistake," Glenn Hoddle, the Wolves manager, ranted. "He's got to learn he can't play flicky-flicky football at that time in the game and in that position on the park. I wasn't happy with our defending all day. We didn't turn up with our two heads - we only wanted to play when we had the ball."

Two points above the drop, Gillingham met Crewe, a point worse off, in Kent where David Vaughan put Dario Gradi's side ahead with a fine 20-yard drive. The Gills earned a point when Nicky Southall levelled. "We've thrown away a great chance of an important three points," Gradi said. "Having said that, a point might turn out valuable at the end of the season."

Back in the north-west, Brighton, in the bottom three, scrapped for a precious point at Burnley in a 1-1 draw. Ade Akinbiyi's first goal at Turf Moor put the Clarets ahead midway through the first half but Dean Hammond levelled seven minutes into the second.

After three defeats, Watford's new manager, Adrian Boothroyd, at last tasted victory when Heidar Helguson scored the goal that beat Rotherham United 1-0. The Hornets were the only side in the bottom third to win.

Queen's Park Rangers and Leeds United drew 1-1 at Loftus Road, both ending with 10 men. Leeds took the lead when Seth Johnson volleyed in a poor Rangers clearance after a corner, but with 19 minutes to play they had Shaun Derry sent off and Kevin Gallen equalised five minutes from time. A second booking for Rangers' Adam Miller levelled the red card count.

Kenwyne Jones and Darel Russell scored first-half goals as Stoke City celebrated manager Tony Pulis signing a new contract by beating Plymouth Argyle, 2-0. "One of the reasons given for not spending money [earlier in the season] was because I hadn't signed the contract. Now we will see what we can do."

The second automatic promotion issue in League One was settled when Hull City drew 0-0 with visitors Swindon Town to gain a second successive promotion with England Under-21 manager Peter Taylor, and third-placed Tranmere Rovers were also held to a goalless draw, by Blackpool at Prenton Park.

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