Round-Up: Talk of the Town as Kuqi sends Ipswich to top

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The Independent Online

There was ample, vivid evidence that this season's Championship race will be the tightest for many years. There were, for example, five 1-0 wins, three of them achieved by teams in the top five, and one of them saw Ipswich Town go top of the table for the first time this season.

There was ample, vivid evidence that this season's Championship race will be the tightest for many years. There were, for example, five 1-0 wins, three of them achieved by teams in the top five, and one of them saw Ipswich Town go top of the table for the first time this season.

Shefki Kuqi scored the only goal of the game to lift Ipswich Town above Wigan Athletic and stretch their unbeaten run at Portman Road to 14 games with a deserved, if narrow, win over Brighton. Kuqi's strike came when Ian Westlake's 22nd-minute shot was deflected to the Finnish international and he lifted the ball over Michel Kuipers into the unguarded net.

"I am delighted we are top of the table but I know how hard it will be to stay there," Joe Royle, the Suffolk side's manager, said. "Our first-half display was terrific without getting a second goal. We had our obligatory 10 nervous minutes at the end but we have been winning games this season that we were drawing previously and our three defeats tells you that we are becoming hard to beat."

Sunderland are mounting a strong challenge for the second key to Premiership riches, their 1-0 win over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium bringing them to within a point of the runners-up spot. It was a dull match dominated by defences but the Wearsiders' substitute, the injury-dogged 26-year-old Michael Bridges, scored his first goal since May 2000 to win it.

"We are all delighted for Michael," his manager, Mick McCarthy, said. "I'm hoping that will be the first of many. He's fully fit now and returning home to Sunderland is also helping him."

The third close win came when Queen's Park Rangers, fifth, recovered from last week's six-goal mauling at Leeds to beat Cardiff City 1-0 at Loftus Road. Despite suffering a head injury which required him to twice replace his bloodied shirt, Danny Shittu met Kevin Gallen's outswinging corner to volley in from 10 yards in the 23rd minute.

Rangers manager Ian Holloway was still recuperating from the stomach illness which laid him low for last week's defeat. "I feel that we let Ian down last week," Tim Breacker, the coach, said. "We got it wrong and we felt we owed him one today."

Burnley and Millwall are among the clubs jostling for position just outside the play-offs as yesterday's tight match at Turf Moor showed. A debatable handball decision presented the Clarets' Robbie Blake with a penalty and he did not miss his ninth goal of the season. The 1-0 victory moved Burnley up four places to eighth, just a point and a place ahead of Millwall.

Sheffield United and managerless Wolves both led in the pulsating game at Bramall Lane but in the end each had to settle for a point from the 3-3 draw. Graham Alexander scored twice as Preston North End beat Derby County 3-0 at Deepdale, both sides are level on points with the Lions.

In the major relegation meeting, Gillingham, whose player-manager Andy Hessenthaler gave up the latter part of his job description last week, beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 at Priestfield to move above them in the bottom three. "The players wanted it today for Andy," the caretaker manager, John Gorman, said. "You only have to look to see what he has done for this club, he's a credit to the game."

Elsewhere, goals by Jamie Scowcroft and Dion Dublin helped Leicester City come back from a goal down to beat Plymouth Argyle 2-1 at the Walkers Stadium, while a Dean Ashton penalty was the only goal of the game as Crewe Alexandra earned their first-ever victory at Coventry.

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