Oldham Athletic, courtesy of a 2-1 derby victory at Carlton Palmer’s Stockport County, were the main beneficiaries of a cold snap that affected the games involving the division’s top three clubs.
The scheduled match of the day, the eagerly awaited clash between the top two, Crewe Alexandra and Wigan Athletic, at Gresty Road, fell foul of the weather as did third placed Cardiff City’s trip to London Road, where they were due to play Barry Fry’s Peterborough United.
This gave Oldham Athletic the chance to make up some lost ground in the race for the second automatic promotion place, and they made no mistake, sealing victory against Stockport County with a controversial David Eyres’ goal, a minute from time. The Latics took the lead in the ninth minute when Paul Murray netted, collecting the ball that had come back off the bar following a Tony Carss effort before sweeping it past County keeper Ola Tidman. The visitors, intent on extending their extraordinary record of fifteen league matches away from home without defeat, were pegged back however, immediately after half time, when the hosts John Daly powered a header past Boundary Park custodian David Miskelly, following a pin point delivery from Ally Gibb. With both sides desperate for the win for differing reasons, the second half was an extremely exciting affair, and it was the promotion chasers who stole all three points a minute from time. The afore mentioned Gibb was adjudged to have fouled Eyres on the edge of the area, with the resultant free-kick rifled home by the Oldham front man to send the travelling fans in Edgeley Park’s highest league crowd of the season (8, 168), wild with delight. Ian Dowie’s men now join third placed Cardiff City on 58 points, three behind second placed Crewe Alexandra, having played a game more.
Meanwhile, Ian Holloway’s Queens Park Rangers continued their recent good form when they trounced Port Vale 4-0 at Loftus Road. After a goal less first half, the division’s highest attendance of the afternoon (13, 703), witnessed the Hoops turn on the style in the second period, as goals from Danny Shittu, Paul Furlong, Gino Padula and Kevin Gallen condemned Brian Horton’s outfit to a crushing defeat. The West London outfit have now won seven of their last ten games and on current form, look a good bet to obtain one of the play-off berths at the end of the season.
Meanwhile one of their main rivals in the play-off race, Bristol City, stumbled yet again, this time losing 2-0 at relegation threatened Notts County. Danny Wilson’s outfit, without a league win so far in 2003 battled hard, but fell behind six minutes after the interval when the hosts’ in-form striker, Mark Stallard, opened the scoring from the penalty spot, with his 17th league goal of the campaign, and his 11th in the 13 matches.
It was the ex-Wycombe striker Stallard, who had won the penalty after a tussle with the Gloucestershire side’s Micky Bell. The home side visibly buoyed having broken the deadlock, made sure of the points 16 minutes later with a wonderful team goal. A sweeping move involving Richard Liburd, Darren Caskey and Paul Bolland, ended when Ian Richardson nodded into the path of the on rushing Paul Heffernan, whose header fairly whistled past Steve Phillips in the Bristol goal. The Ashton Gate outfit did try to respond, and Danny Coles went close late on with a header that grazed the crossbar, but the Meadow Lane outfit held on to claim only their second victory in their last nine games that eases the pressure on Magpies manager, Billy Dearden.
In-form Mark Stallard
Blackpool remain just outside the play-off frame, and maintained the pressure on the top six, after a 1-0 victory over Wally Downes’ Brentford. The Seasiders, who have now lost just once in their last eleven league games dominated a one sided first half, and John Murphy, whose exploits had earned Steve McMahon’s side a 3-1 success at rivals Luton Town in midweek, secured the win, with the only goal of the contest just before the half hour mark. Murphy’s initial shot had been blocked by the Bees’ defence, but the free scoring striker responded quickest and beat Brentford keeper Paul Smith, with a low shot low into the corner.
Blackpool's John Murphy
The second half was a more even affair, with the West Londoners enjoying more possession without creating many clear cut chances, and the Tangerines held on to collect another three points in their charge up the table. (A full report on this match can be found elsewhere on this website).
Eighth placed Luton Town just managed to defeat Terry Fenwick’s lowly Northampton Town by the odd goal in five in an exciting encounter at Kenilworth Road. Joe Kinnear’s men, chasing a second successive promotion, fell behind against the run of play in the 23rd minute, the Cobblers’ Daryl Burgess powering home a header from a Richard Johnson free-kick. However, the visitors’ joy was short lived as Paul Hughes, with his first goal in nearly twelve months, equalised for the Hatters soon after with a tremendous finish at the end of a surging run. The Bedfordshire club then nosed in front just before the hour with another spectacular goal, this time courtesy of a Kevin Nicholls’ free-kick. Struggling Northampton, who have now lost nine of their last 13 league matches, levelled when the busy Johnson converted a penalty, given after the home side’s Chris Willmott had handled inside the penalty area, but Hughes had the last word, notching his second with six minutes remaining, to give Luton their sixth victory in the last nine games.
A solitary strike by the prolific Simon Haworth, his 14th of the campaign, was enough to give his club, Tranmere Rovers, a hard fought three points against another side on the fringes of the play-off promotion race, Paul Sturrock’s Plymouth Argyle. Roy Mathias’s side, which had lost their previous two league matches, secured the win after Ian Hume had chased down a hopeful ball and just beat Pilgrims keeper Romian Larrieu to the ball, before squaring to Haworth, who slotted home. Argyle skipper Paul Wotton had his team’s best chance midway though the first half, but Rovers keeper John Achterberg punched clear from a corner. The second half saw a surprisingly lack lustre display from the Devon outfit, and with Rovers’ captain, Graham Allen in inspirational form, the Prenton Park outfit seldom looked like relinquishing the lead.
Meanwhile, in the six-pointer at the bottom, a real see saw game at the McAlpine Stadium resulted in a six goal thriller between Huddersfield Town and Cheltenham Town, with a final score line of 3-3.
Bobby Gould’s side took the lead eight minutes before the interval when home keeper Scott Bevan, struggling with a groin injury throughout, failed to gather a Mark Yates’ effort, and Grant McCann was on hand to sweep home the rebound. When Julian Alsopp doubled the Robins’ advantage three minutes later, the struggling Yorkshire side looked to be in danger of losing at home for the sixth time this season. However, in a rousing second half comeback, the Terriers stunned the visitors with a three goal salvo inside five minutes. Kenny Irons had already managed to halve the deficit before Martin Smith, with two goals in as many minutes, put the home side in front. But Cheltenham, proving harder to beat since the arrival of the experienced Gould, drew level twelve minutes later when McCann grabbed his second of the afternoon to secure a point. A point apiece helps neither team really, and both clubs remain in serious trouble at the foot of the table.
In the Friday evening game, a single Scott McGleish goal was enough to see off fellow strugglers Mansfield Town, and provide caretaker manager, Geraint Williams, his second consecutive win in six days. McGleish struck two minutes from the end of a tight encounter to considerably ease the Essex side’s relegation worries. The U’s are up to 16th place, whilst Keith Curle’s beaten side fall back into the drop zone after Saturday’s games.
Elsewhere, Barnsley eased their relegation fears, with a come from behind victory over Dave Rushberry’s Chesterfield at Oakwell. The Spireites, thrashed at Port Vale (5-2) in midweek, had taken the lead through Chris Brandon, but Glyn Hodge’s battlers responded and were ahead before half time, thanks to strikes by Rory Fallon and Bruce Dyer. The South Yorkshire outfit were always in control after the break, and the Derbyshire side’s chances of grabbing an unlikely point disappeared three minutes from time, when defender Steve Blatherwick received his marching orders for a second bookable offence. The three points lift the Tykes out of the bottom four and up into 19th place, whilst for out of form Chesterfield, they remain in 14th place, but must be starting to look anxiously over their shoulders at the teams below them.
In the one other game played in the second division, Lawrie Sanchez’s Wycombe Wanderers recorded a fine 3-0 win at mid table Swindon Town. The Buckinghamshire club went in front thanks to a Keith Ryan strike midway through the first half, and doubled their advantage when Danny Bulman fired home in the 57th minute. Craig Faulconbridge then added a third 17 minutes from the end, with his sixth goal of a frustrating season, and there was no way back for Andy King’s outfit. The improving Adams Park side have now lost just once in their last eight league games, a run that has seen the Chairboys rise up in to eleventh place, one position above their beaten Wiltshire rivals.
PICTURES COURTESY OF NOTTS COUNTY MAD AND SEASIDERS.NET.