Palace let record slip

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The Independent Online
THE two 1-0 away wins which saw Sunderland and Derby County extend their lead over the chasing pack at the top of the Endsleigh First Division were not pretty but pretty effective. And they will take great pleasure, too, in the slip-up at home by third-placed Crystal Palace, their most realistic competition for the automatic promotion places.

Sunderland went ahead from their first genuine chance against Barnsley. A Paul Stewart glancing header from Michael Gray's corner gave Craig Russell the opportunity to spin smartly and hook in his 13th goal of the season. Stewart's next meaningful action was his last.

Falling in a untidy tussle with Adrian Moses, Stewart got up, swung his elbow at Moses' team-mate Arjan de Zeeuw and off he went. Roared on by almost 7,000 travelling fans, the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given produced the saves to take the points from Oakwell, where the Wearsiders had won only once in eight previous visits.

Speaking of poor sequences away from home, Derby had not even scored away from the Baseball Ground, much less win, for five games. The Rams' manager, Jim Smith, responded by dropping striker Ashley Ward for the visit to Oldham Athletic.

But the home side controlled the game until the 58th minute when Scott McGiven up-ended Marco Gabbiadini in the penalty area and Paul Simpson made no mistake with the kick to give Derby only their second win in six games. Luckless Oldham remain in deep trouble.

Palace slipped up at home for the first time since 4 November when Leicester's Iwan Roberts capped Emile Heskey's fine run and low cross with a shot from close in. Another Heskey cross just eluded Steve Claridge as Martin O'Neill's side completed a London double - they beat Charlton on Tuesday - to edge back into play-off contention.

Millwall's Tony Dolby was sent off for kicking West Brom's Peter Butler during the Lions 1-0 defeat at The Hawthorns. This third red card in recent matches has given Jimmy Nicholl, Millwall manager since January, pause for thought.

"There is a lack of discipline at this club, the like of which I have never come across," he fumed. The Lions' entire back four will now miss the relegation match against Oldham at The New Den in two week's time. "If they don't change their ways the guilty ones will not be here next season. It's as simple as that."

Karren Brady, the Birmingham City managing director, last night made public her decision to stay away from Wednesday's clash with Millwall, after receiving death threats. Manager Barry Fry has also received the threats and the police have been asked to provide extra protection for the team.