Simpson's treble inspires Derby

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Derby County, who opened a five-point gap between second and third places in the Endsleigh League First Division on Saturday, made sure the pursuing pack received the clear message that only the play-off route to promotion was still available to them by trouncing Tranmere Rovers 6-2 at the Baseball Ground yesterday, writes Mark Burton .

Derby, 1-0 winners at Oldham on Saturday, had Paul Simpson, scorer of three goals and provider of two others, to thank for ensuring they would gain ample revenge for the 5-1 defeat they suffered at Tranmere's hands earlier in the season. They were caught out after only five minutes when Paul Cook put Tranmere ahead from a free-kick. It took Derby until the 38th minute to find a way back, Simpson's fierce drive being parried and Darryl Powell knocking in the rebound.

After the interval, Derby took command with five goals in 19 minutes, Dean Yates heading the first from Simpson's corner in the 50th minute. Simpson then thrashed in two goals and bobbled in a direct free-kick, with Dean Sturridge adding the other. John Aldridge put away a late penalty for Tranmere.

Derby, who trail Sunderland, by three points, are being chased by Crystal Palace, who recovered their momentum after Saturday's setback by winning 2-0 at struggling Reading. Dougie Freedman knocked in their first on the stroke of half-time after the Reading goalkeeper Simon Sheppard had failed to hold Dariusz Wdowczyk's headed back-pass.

It took two good saves by Nigel Martyn to keep Palace ahead and Stuart Lovell headed against a Palace post before Ray Houghton added their second goal in the 72nd minute from Freedman's pass. Four minutes later, Palace's David Tuttle was sent off for a second bookable offence.

Fifth-placed Ipswich Town were hit by a Clive Mendonca hat-trick as they lost 3-1 at Grimsby Town, but their East Anglian rivals, Norwich City, did them a favour by beating Huddersfield Town 2-0, only their second home victory in 15 matches.

Leo Roget had a brief but dramatic outing for Southend United. The 18- year-old came on in the 86th minute and scored in injury time to deprive the bottom club, Watford, of a rare victory. Craig Ramage had put them ahead in the first half. It hardly helped Watford's desperate plight that Oldham won 3-1 at Port Vale.

Blackpool have made their task of moving up to the First Division more difficult by losing three times in six days. Yesterday they were ahead at home to Rotherham United but they succumbed to a chip by John McGlashan and a header by Trevor Berry. Swindon Town took full advantage by winning 2-0 at Crewe Alexandra with a goal from Kevin Horlock and another from David Preece, who ran the game, to go four points clear at the top.

Oxford United also stepped up the promotion pressure by leapfrogging over Crewe into third place with a 3-0 victory at Wycombe Wanderers.