Last updated : 23 February 2003 By

Runaway leaders Wigan Athletic and second placed Crewe Alexandra distanced themselves further from the chasing pack this weekend, after both recorded comfortable 2-0 victories away from home at mid table teams, Wycombe Wanderers and Chesterfield respectively.

Paul Jewell’s Lancashire outfit, warmed up for the eagerly awaited clash between the division’s top two on Tuesday evening at Gresty Road, when they won away from home for the twelfth time this season, courtesy of an early strike by midfielder, Lee McCulloch and a last minute penalty from Andy Liddell.

McCulloch put the visitors ahead in the 9th minute, with his fifth league goal of the season, and although the home side piled on the pressure after the break, the men from the JJB stadium withstood the onslaught and sealed the three points a minute from time when Liddell converted a penalty, after Wycombe Wanderers’ substitute, Jermain McSporran had felled the Latics’ Stephen McMillan in the area.

Meanwhile, Dario Gradi’s Crewe Alexandra proved too strong for Dave Rushberry’s Chesterfield at Saltergate.

Jack: Sealed Victory
A rare goal by David Wright put the Railwaymen in front just after the half hour mark, and the visitors made sure of victory five minutes from time when Rodney Jack pounced to net his sixth of the season.

The Alex are now unbeaten in eight league games, whilst for the out of form Spireites, it was their third successive defeat, and they have only picked up two points from the last 24 available.

The chasing pack fared less well, with both Cardiff City (on Friday evening) and erratic Oldham Athletic dropping vital points at home in 1-1 draws, after both teams conceded late equalisers.

Lennie Lawrence’s Cardiff City appeared to be on course for three points when the free scoring Robert Earnshaw consolidated his position as the division’s top marksman, notching his 24th goal of the season, on the stoke of half time in their clash with Plymouth Argyle, at Ninian Park. However, despite numerous chances, the home side failed to finish off the Devon side and were made to pay when Paul Wotton netted in the 86th minute. The draw keeps the Welsh side in third place in the table, but they are now five points adrift of second placed, Crewe Alexandra.

Frustrating Oldham Athletic failed to win at home for the seventh time in their last eight home games when a strike from improving Notts County’s, Paul Heffernan, cancelled out Wayne Andrews’ opener for the home side a minute before the break.

Heffernan: Three in as many games against the Latics
The Latics must be sick of the sight of Heffernan, who has now scored in all three matches the sides have played this season, and the Lancashire club have now only picked up 25 points at home in 17 games, a marked contrast to their unbeaten away record that has seen them garner 34 points from 16 matches.

The other two sides in the play-off frame, Bristol City and Queens Park Rangers had mixed fortunes. Danny Wilson’s Gloucestershire outfit recorded a welcome first victory in 2003, when they defeated struggling Northampton Town 2-1 at the Sixfields stadium, thanks to strikes from Mark Robins and Brian Tinnion, whilst at Loftus Road, a last gasp effort from Rangers' Kevin Gallen, who had earlier missed a penalty, rescued his side a share of the spoils in their 2-2 home draw with relegation threatened Mansfield Town.

Robins gave his new club the advantage against Northampton Town in the twelfth minute, and when Tinnion then doubled the visitors’ lead ten minutes before half time, Cobblers’ manager Terry Fenwick must have been resigned to the fact that he was not going to see his side win for the first time under his management. The home side did halve the deficit just before half time when Paul McGregor netted with an exquisite chip, but that was as good as it got for Northampton Town, who have now not won in eight league matches and drop to second from bottom.

At Loftus Road, Paul Furlong put the Hoops in front in the 20th minute, before Mansfield Town hotshot, Iyseden Christie, equalised five minutes later. Gallen then wasted an opportunity to put the Londoners back in front just after half time, firing a penalty straight at Stags’ keeper, Keith Welch, after Mansfield player manager, Keith Curle had brought down Furlong. Christie then edged the midlands’ outfit in front with his 17th goal of the season, but right at the death, Gallen redeemed himself, taking advantage of a slip by Mansfield custodian, Welch, to crash home a deserved equaliser.

Brentford also registered their first win of the year, as a solitary strike by Rowan Vine proved enough to severely dent Luton Town’s chances of making the end of season play-offs. In a scrappy affair, the game was illuminated with a fantastic left foot strike by Vine, the Bees’ forward who is on a season long loan from Nationwide Division Club, Portsmouth. Vine’s strike, his tenth league goal of the season, sealed a welcome first league victory in seven attempts for the Bees. (A full match report on this game can be found elsewhere on this site).

Blackpool failed to make up any ground in the play-off race as they slipped to their first league defeat in twelve matches, losing 2-1 at fellow play-off hopefuls Tranmere Rovers, thanks to a wonderful brace from Iain Hume.

Hume opened the scoring for the Merseysiders after 14 minutes, with a crisp shot from 20 yards, and even though midfielder, Paul Evans, on loan from Nationwide First Division Club, Bradford City, restored parity for the Tangerines on the hour, Hume with a fantastic second, in which he beat two defenders before firing an angled shot past the Seasiders’ Phil Barnes, settled the contest in favour of Ray Matthias’ Tranmere Rovers.

Elsewhere, the big derby clash between struggling Yorkshire outfits, Barnsley and Huddersfield Town attracted Oakwell’s best league attendance of the season (12, 474).

And it was the troubled Terriers who improved their chances of escaping the clutches of relegation. A single strike by Andy Booth, midway through the first half settled a tight clash in favour of the visitors, as they completed a league double over their Yorkshire rivals. Mick Wadsworth’s Huddersfield Town, now unbeaten in five league matches move up two places, but do currently still occupy the last relegation position.

Basement dwellers, Cheltenham Town, failed to lift themselves off the foot of the table when they could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to improving Colchester United. The Essex club, who have now not lost in the four games that caretaker manager, Geraint Williams, has been in charge fell behind in the second minute when Julian Alsop scored for the Whaddon Road outfit.

However, as proved the case last Tuesday, when the Gloucestershire team had scored early against Barnsley, Bobby Gould’s team failed to capitalise on their advantage and were pegged back right on half time when Gareth Williams, on loan from Crystal Palace levelled. An exciting second period produced no further goals, and the point is of far greater benefit to the men from Layer Road, than it is for Cheltenham Town.

Barry Fry’s much improved Peterborough United secured only their fifth home success of the season when they defeated Carlton Palmer’s fast sliding Stockport County 2-0 at London Road, thanks to second half goals from Mark Arber and Andrew Fotiadis. The out of form men from Edgeley Park, have only picked up six points out of their last 11 league games, a poor spell that has left them one place above the drop zone.

In the afternoon’s other game, Port Vale and Swindon Town battled to a 1-1 draw at Vale Park. Ian Armstrong gave the home side the lead, a minute into the second half, but an 18th league strike of the current campaign from the prolific Sam Parkin, maintained the Wiltshire club’s slim play-off promotion hopes.

Pictures courtesy of Crewe Alexandra.com
and Notts County Mad.