Shakers buried at the door of last-chance saloon

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The phrase "drinking at the last-chance saloon", customarily used to describe a grim relegation battle, has been given a more profound resonance this season as each month produces at least one more professional football club on the brink of extinction. In the wake of York City, Swindon Town, Swansea City and the oldest of all league clubs, Notts County, who have all recently reported financial problems of varying severity, comes Bury, whose Second Division home game against County might have been their last.

The club, which is in administration, has to raise £200,000 by Friday or it will be wound up. Hence yesterday's Fans United appeal with buckets, begging bowls and donation plates and a crowd of 5,435. On the pitch, the day did not go well as Danny Allsopp scored twice in County's 4-0 dismantling of the nervous Shakers. But Bury have an even bigger date on Friday.

Although they haven't called last orders on Grimsby Town, 22nd in the Nationwide First Division, or Walsall, 23rd, their relegation scrap at Blundell Park was clearly a crucial meeting. The Mariners held 2-0 lead with 10 minutes left but Jorge Leitão and Darren Byfield scored to rescue a point for Walsall. "That last minute goal made us all feel disappointed," the Grimsby player-manager, Paul Groves, who had opened the scoring, said. A master of understatement, obviously.

Barnsley had hauled themselves out of the relegation tussle with a good run after the arrival of manager Steve Parkin but are back in trouble and a 1-1 draw in the Yorkshire derby with Sheffield United at Oakwell did little to ease the situation.

"It is difficult to say how many points we will need to be safe," Parkin said. "It will be tight and could depend on who holds their nerve and who has that bit of luck" Barnsley stay out of the relegation places on goal difference and the Blades' neighbours, Sheffield Wednesday, are still caught up in the relegation debate after a goalless draw with Gillingham.

In the scramble for the play-off places, sixth-placed Burnley won a scrappy game 2-0 at the bottom club Stockport County. Gareth Taylor, six minutes into the second period, and an Ian Cox solo effort wrapped it up for Stan Ternent's side.

"It wasn't pretty but when you come to a place like this, where you are expected to win, it is never easy," he philosophised.

Five points behind the Clarets are seventh-placed Preston North End, whose £5m sale of striker Jonathan Macken to Manchester City might have been interpreted as a sign that they had given up on promotion this year. No one told the players, though, as they beat Rotherham United 2-1 at Deepdale, Richard Cresswell scoring twice.

But Crystal Palace dropped to eighth when they lost 2-0 at home to Watford to leave them with one win in seven games. The Hornets scored in first-half injury time and two minutes after the restart, both goals coming from Stephen Glass crosses finished by Allan Nielsen and Marcus Gayle, players manager Gianluca Vialli has said he will sell. Calls for Palace manager Trevor Francis's resignation soon began.

"We played some very good football in a swirling wind," he countered, "and when you have players of the calibre of Clinton Morrison and Dougie Freedman you expect one or two goals from so many chances." Elsewhere, Wimbledon drew 0-0 at Nottingham Forest.

In the Second Division, Martin Rowlands scored twice as Brentford moved up to third thanks to their 3-0 win at Wrexham and Jermaine McSporran's goal for Wycombe, which was enough to beat Stoke City 1-0. Huddersfield Town moved into the play-offs by beating Swindon Town 2-0 replacing Oldham, who lost 1-0 at Wigan.

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