Sunderland open up five-point lead

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The Independent Online

Jim Smith was yesterday bemoaning a missed chance to close the gap on the First Division leaders, Sunderland, after his Derby side slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Ipswich.

"It was disappointing with so much at stake," Smith admitted, after learning his side could have moved within two points of Peter Reid's side following their 3-3 draw against struggling Watford.

Tony Vaughan scored his first goal for Ipswich to keep their play-off hopes alive and Smith conceded: "We would have been fortunate to have got away with anything.

"It is always difficult coming to Ipswich, and even more difficult if you don't play. Our passing and control let us down - in the first half particularly."

Sunderland increased their advantage to five points, but failed to set a club record of 10 successive victories despite Steve Agnew and Kevin Ball putting them into a commanding 2-0 lead.

Tommy Mooney reduced the deficit before Craig Russell added a third, but Mooney and Craig Ramage salvaged a point for Graham Taylor's side.

Crystal Palace also surrendered a two-goal lead and remain third after drawing 2-2 with Port Vale. Dougie Freedman scored twice in the first half for Crystal Palace, but Jon McCarthy pulled one back in the 51st minute and Martin Foyle levelled with 15 minutes remaining.

"We could have been four up at half-time but it all changed in the second half and credit to Port Vale for the manner they got back into it," Dave Bassett, the Palace maanger, said. "It's a volatile game and matches can change so easily."

John Rudge, his Vale counterpart, added: "To get a point after going two down against a team like Palace was very pleasing. It gives us a chance for the play-offs and if we can make them after the position that we were in at the start of the season, it would be a miracle of the season."

Leicester remain in play-off contention after Steve Claridge clinched a 1-0 victory over Charlton - causing the Londoner's manager Alan Curbishley to label his side's performance as "disorganised and disjointed".

The Luton manager Lennie Lawrence, a man who has had plenty of experience of relegation battles from his days at Charlton, believes he can inspire another escape act after their 2-0 victory over fellow strugglers West Bromwich.

"There are now eight games to go. The spark is there and our confidence is back," Lawrence said. "It will take a few points to get out of danger but at least we are on the move again."