Round-up : Grainger blow to Barnsley

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The Independent Online
With Bolton's Premiership place now officially booked, the battle for the second automatic promotion place from the First Division enters the meltdown stage. The best- placed clubs - Barnsley, Wolves and Sheffield United - are less than convincing at present and the form teams, Port Vale and Portsmouth, probably have to be content with play-off places.

Second-placed Barnsley were surprisingly beaten at Oakwell when the Birmingham City left-back Martin Grainger scored in the 12th minute with a wind- assisted, 35-yard free-kick which dipped and swirled.

At least they received some sympathy for their efforts from their fans; Sheffield United were booed off the pitch at Bramall Lane after the visitors West Brom had won 2-1. Albion dominated midfield and took the lead after 16 minutes when Stacy Caldicott headed in Richard Sneekes' cross at the far post.

Sneekes wasted two good chances to stretch the lead before Jan Age Fjortoft equalised with his ninth goal in 11 games. From a difficult angle, he connected with a long throw, hooking it over Alan Miller in the Blades goal. Parity lasted three minutes. Albion's defender David Smith powered forward and when his shot was blocked Bob Taylor volleyed the ball in.

In the play-off places, John Rudge's Port Vale consolidated fifth position with a 2-0 win at Oxford United, their first-ever win at the Manor Ground. It was a Mills & Purse Show. The Vale forward Lee Mills robbed Oxford defender Darren Purse on the halfway line and ran on to score after 31 minutes, his seventh goal in six games. Thirty minutes later Purse elbowed Mills in the face and was sent off. Tony Naylor wrapped it up with three minutes remaining.

A Jimmy Carter goal 10 minutes into the second half for the First Division's other form team, Portsmouth, gave Pompey a 1-0 win over Grimsby Town at Fratton Park and lifted them into the fourth play-off place.

At the bottom, Oldham, 5-1 winners on Easter Monday, lost 4-0 at Ipswich. Neil Warnock, the Athletic manager, was an angry man. "You could say it was frustrating, but I'd probably use a stronger adjective. We were so bad in the first half. Ipswich didn't really have to work very hard for their goals. We are just not good enough."

Luton moved into the automatic promotion places in the Second Division with a 3-0 win at Rotherham, Tony Thorpe scoring a hat-trick, and in the Third Fulham, who have been stuttering, went back on top with a 2-1 win at promotion rivals Carlisle while Wigan could only draw 1-1 at Chester.

In Scotland, Rangers have their ninth consecutive Premier title in their sights, equalling Celtic's record, after beating Dunfermline 4-0 to open up a nine point gap. "The performance was more like us," their manager Walter Smith said. "At this stage of the season you are happy just to win, but we created a lot of chances."

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