Nicholl in 'threat' to Russians

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THE Endsleigh League First Division is probably not every manager's idea of heaven. There are poison chalices aplenty to be found among its collection of big clubs fallen on hard times, newly relegated clubs and those which have made huge investments with a Premiership place in mind.

None of which prevented either Dave Bassett (not for the first time) or Jimmy Nicholl from putting their managerial skills to the test there. Neither enjoyed success yesterday, Bassett's Crystal Palace being held goalless at home by his one-time charges at Sheffield United, and Nicholl's Millwall drawing 1-1 with Reading at the New Den.

Nicholl, newly arrived in south London from Kirkcaldy, could at least plead not guilty as Millwall struggled to turn their possession and pressure to advantage. The former Raith Rovers manager was cast in the role of spectator while the side that his first team coach, Ian Evans, put out salvaged a point through Ricky Newman's second-half equaliser from a game they should have won at a canter.

He was pleased with the performance of Millwall, who did without their Russian international pair. Vassili Kulkov has an elbow injury, but Sergei Yuran was simply left out. Nicholl hardly had much encouragement for them afterwards.

"It is much better to see your team create chances and miss them rather than not have any chances at all," Nicholl said. "I have got to speak to the two Russians and if they can add anything to our performance today then all well and good. We shall have to wait and see but I must say that I was pleased with the attitude of all the players in today's match."

Mark McGhee, who tired of the taste from Leicester City's far from overflowing cup, is beginning to make himself flavour of the month with at Wolves. Nothing but promotion will please the fans and even though that will be a long haul from 18th place there are signs of improvement. Wolves followed up their presentable, if unsuccessful, challenge to Tottenham in the FA Cup by taking a point at the division's leaders, Derby. A bruising battle between the big spenders brought no goals, but Wolves might have won it if Darren Ferguson could have controlled Simon Osborn's clever 65th-minute chip into space.

Charlton Athletic, distinctly cheap and cheerful compared with those two clubs, stepped up the pressure on Derby by coming from a goal behind at struggling Watford to win 2-1. It was fifth successive away victory

It was a fifth successive away triumph for Charlton's neat, progressive football and was earned in the 73rd minute by Lee Bowyer, their teenage midfielder who was being watched by Liverpool's manager Roy Evans. Bowyer scored after following up a parried shot by John Robinson, who had restored a sense of order with an equaliser in the 51st minute. Kevin Phillips had given Watford a first-half lead against the run of play.

Sunderland's third goalless draw in five matches - this one at home against Port Vale - cost them further ground in the promotion race. The Rokermen have gone over five hours without a goal and, until the introduction of 18-year-old Michael Bridges, rarely threatened to break down determined Vale.

A first-half goal by Shaun Taylor gave Swindon a 1-0 victory at Swansea that kept them six points clear at the top of the Second Division, while the Gills (Gillingham) beat the Gulls (Torquay) to stay five clear of the pack in the Third Division.

The Raith Rovers side Nicholl left behind in the Scottish Premier Division got by without a manager, beating Hibernian 1-0 at home thanks to a superb goal from Davie Kirkwood.

Celtic's pursuit of the leaders, Rangers, was not helped by a 0-0 draw at Falkirk, where they struggled on a saturated pitch. Paul McStay's second- minute drive was the nearest either side came to scoring. It beat Falkirk's keeper, Tony Parks, but hit the post. Aberdeen won 3-1 at Hearts, who had Bruno Pasquale sent off to leapfrog their rivals into third place.