Level-headed start for Clark

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ONE must have admiration for, sympathy with and not a little disbelief at a manager who resigns from one club locked in a grim relegation battle only to take up an appointment with another club similarly situated except that they're a division lower and he's their fifth manager of the season.

The rapturous ovation from 27,395 Manchester City fans which met Frank Clark, the former Nottingham Forest incumbent, when he sent out his first Nationwide First Division side to face Crystal Palace at Maine Road must have made it all seem worthwhile. Irony, too, in that Dave Bassett, the Palace manager, had turned down the City job. Then again, who hadn't?

A pity, in the end, that City let slip two of the three points with seven minutes remaining after David Tuttle's headed own-goal from Georgi Kinkladze's free-kick had given them a 20th-minute lead. It stayed that way until they left George Ndah unmarked six yards out to head in an Andy Roberts free-kick.

"We have to improve the players we have got and bring in new players to improve the team," Clark admitted. "You are not four from bottom after 25 games if there is not a problem."

Meanwhile, at the top, there is manifestly no problem for Bolton who opened up an eight-point lead with a solid 3-0 win at Portsmouth, Nathan Blake scoring twice. Second-placed Barnsley lost 3-1 at Queen's Park Rangers, for whom John Spencer scored a hat-trick.

Wanderers, without top scorer John McGinlay, weathered the first-half storm to take control in the second when Blake exchanged passes with Scott Sellars on 55 minutes and fired in his 16th goal of the season. Michael Johanssen's deflected shot made it 2-0 and, still frisky in injury time, Blake ran 50 yards, holding off two challenges, to hit a left-foot shot past Alan Knight in Pompey's goal.

Meanwhile, QPR moved up to fifth as Spencer looked worth every penny of his pounds 2.4m fee.

Neil Redfearn's curled free-kick gave Barnsley a 39th-minute lead but a four-man, end-to-end move was finished by Spencer's shot from an acute angle. He was first to Matthew Brazier's left-wing cross to give QPR the lead 10 minutes into the second half and, in injury time, Spencer charged on to Tony Roberts's long punt for his hat-trick.

But not everyone was full of praise for the striker. His collision with Steve Davis left the defender with a suspected broken leg. "He didn't fall over that's for sure," Danny Wilson, the Barnsley manager, said.

"There was a collision but unfortunately the referee didn't see anything."

Wilson had no complaints about the scoreline, however. "I thought it was a great game. QPR are the best side we have played this season."

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