Last updated : 18 February 2003 By

Wigan Athletic failed to win at the JJB Stadium for the second successive Saturday, after a late strike by Blackpool’s substitute, Scott Taylor, cancelled out Andy Liddell’s first minute opener for the home side.

In front of the Latic’s highest league crowd of the season (10, 546), Paul Jewell’s outfit started well and took the lead courtesy of Liddell’s 13th goal of the season. However, profligate finishing by the home side later in the half, most notably by Nathan Ellington, kept Steve McMahon’s side in the hunt, and in the second half the play-off chasing Tangerines upped their tempo.

The visitors came close soon after the interval when Richard Walker’s header was brilliantly tipped around the post by the hosts’ goalkeeper, John Filan, but the warning went unheeded, and five minutes from time Blackpool drew level. A long clearance out of defence found John Murphy, who headed onto Taylor to rifle home and secure a point for the Seasiders.

In-form Blackpool are now unbeaten in nine league games, and Wigan Athletic, whilst they remain top, saw their lead cut to nine points by Crewe Alexandra. The pair meet at Gresty Road next Saturday.

Meanwhile, Crewe Alexandra cut the leaders lead at the summit, thanks to a spirited comeback against ten men Brentford at Griffin Park. Trailing to a fantastic eleventh minute strike by the home side’s Stephen Hunt, Dario Gradi’s men were handed a lifeline when the Bees’ influential midfielder, Martin Rowlands was sent off ten minutes before half time for a second bookable offence.

The Railwaymen made their numerical advantage count in the second period as first Kenny Lunt, following good work by the impressive Steve Jones on the right, took aim and finished clinically with a fierce shot that whistled past Bees’ keeper Paul Smith’s outstretched left hand and into the bottom right hand corner of the net. The Alex then nosed in front after the home side’s Scott Marshall had harshly been adjudged to have brought down Lunt in the penalty area. The busy Lunt dusted himself down and confidently swept the resultant penalty past the hapless Smith.

The Bees did respond and were perhaps unfortunate not to grab a point. Marshall saw a glancing effort shave a post, and then the impressive Rowan Vine had an even better effort that cannoned off the beaten Clayton Ince’s left hand upright and away to safety. Eight minutes from time, the West Londoners felt they should have had a penalty when Lunt appeared to handle in the area, but referee Mr. Williamson waived away the protests and gave a free-kick instead. Crewe survived the free-kick and thereafter held on to complete the league double over Wally Downes’ men. (A Full report of this match can be found elsewhere on this website).

Third placed Cardiff City had super sub, Gavin Gordon, to thank for a last gasp equaliser that saved a point against relegation threatened Barnsley at Ninian Park.

Following a goalless first half, the lowly visitors were awarded a penalty seven minutes after the interval when home midfielder, Jason Bowen, was penalised for hand ball. Bruce Dyer duly converted the spot kick to put the Tykes into the lead. But caretaker manager, Glyn Hodges’ battlers were denied the league double over Lennie Lawrence’s promotion chasing outfit right at the death, Gordon stabbing home from close range after a cross from Alan Mahon. Cardiff remain third, but the Welshmen have now only won two of their last six games, while Barnsley drop into the bottom three due to results elsewhere.

Promotion chasing Oldham Athletic lost ground at the top as came unstuck for the sixth time at home this season when they lost 1-0 to Paul Sturrock’s Plymouth Argyle at Boundary Park. The injury and suspension ravaged Lancastrians struggled throughout, and it was no surprise when Mickey Evans netted with his sixth league goal of the campaign to give the Devon Club the lead six minutes before half time. The second half was forgettable, apart from an effort by the home team’s Wayne Andrews that appeared to be goal bound, until Paul Wotton rescued the visitors with a tremendous goal line clearance. Defeat leaves Ian Dowie’s men in fourth place, while improving Plymouth Argyle are up to eighth, five points behind the last play-off spot.

Another leading side to suffer a shock home reversal were Danny Wilson’s Bristol City, who crashed 2-1 at home to mangerless Colchester United. The visitors, under the temporary guidance of Geraint Williams, silenced the Ashton Gate faithful with an opening goal in the twelfth minute, courtesy of Scott McGleish, who headed home Joe Keith’s pin point free-kick.

Craig Fagan, the Robins on loan forward from Birmingham, restored parity for the home side, with a 51st minute strike following a cross from Scott Murray, but the relegation threatened U’s were not to be denied, and eight minutes from time, Thomas Pinault, with a tremendous thirty yard effort, deceived home keeper Steve Phillips, and the ball crept into the back of the net.

Queens Park Rangers continued their impressive recent run when they came from behind to share the spoils with Terry Fenwick’s lowly Northampton Town.

The Cobblers, beaten in their last five league games at the Sixfields Stadium, started brightly and took the lead just after the quarter hour mark with a wonderful volley from Brent Rahim. Ian Holloway’s side exerted more pressure after the break and deservedly drew level when Paul Furlong netted on the hour. Both sides had chances to secure the win after that, but had to settle for a point apiece.

Luton Town improved their chances of reaching the end of season play-offs when they returned from the Potteries with an eighth away victory of the season, courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Port Vale.

After a poor first half, when the only incident of note was an effort from the home side’s Steve McGhee that come back off the crossbar, the Hatters took the lead soon after the interval, when Tony Thorpe netted. Joe Kinnear’s side doubled their advantage with a Kevin Nicholls’ penalty, and although Mark Boyd reduced the arrears for Vale with three minutes remaining, it was a case of too little too late.

Luton Town are up to seventh, three points behind Queens Park Rangers, who occupy the last play-off spot, but they do have two games in hand over their West London rivals.

In a game involving two sides on the fringes of the play-off race, Tranmere Rovers and Swindon Town, it was Andy King’s away side that triumphed at Prenton Park. A solitary strike by Andy Gurney five minutes after the break proved crucial as the Robins stretched their unbeaten run to seven games. Swindon stay in eleventh, but are now only three points behind the Merseysiders, who drop to tenth.

Meanwhile at the bottom, Huddersfield Town moved off the foot of the table with a hard fought 0-0 draw at Lawire Sanchez’s Wycombe Wanderers. The Terriers set their stall out early on, and the Buckinghamshire side found it hard to break down the resilient visitors. With chances few, Craig Falconbridge did have the ball in the net for the home side with 15 minutes to go, but the effort was ruled out for offside. After that Mick Wadsworth’s visitors held on comfortably, to record a third successive clean sheet, as the Chairboys failed to score at home for the first time this season.

Cheltenham Town swapped places with Huddersfield Town, when they lost 2-0 at home to Stockport County. The afternoon had started badly for the visitors when their player manager Carlton Palmer was sent off for two bookable offences. However, the West Country side, who had not lost previously under new manager Bobby Gould, failed to capitalise, and the Edgeley Park outfit sealed a precious victory with two late strikes in the game’s last quarter, by Jonathan Daly and substitute Peter Wild, that earned the Hatters three vital points in their battle to avoid the drop.

In an exciting East Midlands derby, in front of the highest crowd at Field Mill this season (8, 134), ex- Mansfield Town manager Billy Dearden saw his current charges Notts County succumb by the odd goal in five, in their relegation six-pointer with fast improving Mansfield Town.

After the first half had ended in stalemate, the game ignited with a three goal blast from the home team inside 19 second half minutes. Mansfield Town opened the scoring in the 52nd minute when Andy White netted from close range after a cross from Wayne Corden, and Keith Curle’s team doubled their advantage 13 minutes later when substitute, 17 year old Craig Mitchell notched his first senior goal. The points appeared safe six minutes later, when Corden fired an unstoppable shot past County Keeper Steve Mildenhall, to the put the Stags 3-0 up, but in a rousing finish, the prolific Mark Stallard scored two late goals for the Magpies that left the home supporters on the edge of their seats. Mansfield managed to hang on for a vital win, and the three points moves them out of the bottom four. However, the alarm bells are ringing for defeated Notts County, who have now lost five out of their last eight league games.

In the afternoon’s other game, a goalless draw ensued in the clash between mid table Chesterfield and Barry Fry’s Peterborough United at Saltergate. The home side dominated throughout and had numerous chances, but could not convert any of them, and the Posh would have been the happier of the two teams as they returned home to London Road with a point.