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The Toe Poke

Hammers salvage point, top two roll on

West Ham limited the damage to their automatic promotion hopes with two goals in two minutes on Saturday, but nevertheless slipped four points behind Reading with a game in a hand in the race for second in the Championship.

West Ham looked to be on the way to a damaging defeat against Burnley at Turf Moor, before two quick goals with just over 20 minutes remaining from Kevin Nolan and James Tomkins set up an intriguing conclusion - although a potentially crucial winning strike would not be forthcoming as the game ended 2-2.

The goals came after Marvyn Bartley and Martin Paterson had given Eddie Howe's side a seemingly comfortable first-half lead, as neither side gained much from a share of the spoils.

That meant Southampton moved nine points clear of the Hammers at the top of the table, after they picked up all three points in a 2-0 win thanks to Billy Sharp's second half brace against former club Doncaster.

Sharp sent Southampton one step closer to the Premier League and at the same time nudged his old employers further towards the Championship trapdoor, after switching sides for around £2 million in January. It was a dominant performance from the hosts and Sharp broke the deadlock shortly before the hour with a header and then put the game to bed by firing home from inside the area with 15 minutes to go.

Rovers were left to reflect on a third successive defeat, which may have been different had Frederic Piquionne headed home early on.

Completing the top two, Reading dented Blackpool's own promotion ambitions with a diligent 3-1 win at the Madejski Stadium that keeps them five points adrift of the league leaders.

The hosts took the lead in the 30th minute when Ian Harte followed up after Jobi McAnuff struck the woodwork, and five minutes later the Royals doubled their advantage.

McAnuff was again the provider, chipping to the back post for Alex Pearce to head home. After losing for the first time in 10 matches at Peterborough in midweek, Reading were evidently in the mood to get back to winning ways.

Lomana LuaLua pulled a goal back for the visiting Tangerines just before the break with a stunning strike from long range but after the interval Mikele Leigertwood nodded in Reading's third.

Defender Joel Lynch scored a 94th-minute equaliser as Nottingham Forest earned a well-deserved point in a 1-1 draw with 10-man Brighton, who missed out on the chance to build a cushion on their play-off rivals.

On-loan striker Sam Vokes' goal appeared to have been enough to ensure the Seagulls completed an east Midlands double following victory over Derby on Tuesday, but substitute Matthew Sparrow was sent off for the visitors in the closing stages and the hosts took full advantage when Lynch pounced to poke in from close range.

It was the least Forest deserved after they struck the woodwork three times and created the bulk of the chances.

Watford hit back to see off Ipswich 2-1 and extend the visitors' long wait for victory over their Hertfordshire rivals.

The two mid-table sides started the day separated by goal difference alone but it is Watford who now stand within just six points of the play-off places.

Substitute Chris Iwelumo was the catalyst for the turnaround following Jay Emmanuel Thomas's 18th minute strike for the visitors, sparking a comeback which inflicted only Town's second defeat in 11 games and left them still without a win over the Hornets for eight years. Sean Murray's strike and Troy Deeney's neat lob after a mistake from Carlos Edwards eight minutes from time extended Watford's current hot streak to six games.

Ross McCormack fired Leeds to a 1-0 victory over Millwall as Neil Warnock's side put their midweek mauling behind them.

The Elland Road men arrived at the New Den still smarting from Tuesday's 7-3 humbling by Forest, but McCormack's second-half strike, and a penalty save by Andy Lonergan 60 seconds later, helped banish those memories and secured Warnock's second win since he took charge.

Derby may be able to harbour hopes of gatecrashing the play-offs after a 3-2 win over Crystal Palace moved them to within five points of the top six.

Steven Davies struck early on and Jeff Hendrick scored just before the half-hour mark to give Derby a two-goal lead at half-time. Theo Robinson's penalty at the start of the second half ensured all three points for Nigel Clough's side despite Chris Martin and Darren Ambrose replying late on for Palace.

Second-half strikes from Gary McSheffrey and Oliver Norwood helped Coventry boost their survival hopes with a 2-0 victory over fellow strugglers Portsmouth at the Ricoh Arena.

Winger McSheffrey netted his eighth goal of the season 10 minutes after half-time and, after a spell of pressure from Pompey, midfielder Oliver Norwood made the three points safe against the run of play 14 minutes from the end.

The result sees Andy Thorn's side end a run of four consecutive draws and, despite staying in the relegation zone, move to within a point of Bristol City - while Portsmouth are six points adrift of safety.

Lloyd Dyer and Ben Marshall struck first-half goals as 10-man Leicester City held on to keep their play-off hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Hull City.

Hull swept into an eighth-minute lead through Matty Fryatt's 11th goal of the season, but Leicester hit back with two superb long-range efforts from Dyer and Marshall in as many minutes.

Foxes midfielder Neil Danns was shown a straight red card in the 57th minute for his reckless challenge on Paul McKenna, but Leicester secured their fourth straight home league win against manager Nigel Pearson's former club.

Bristol City scored their first away goal in 2012 but had to hold on for a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough after having a man sent off.

Debutant Hogan Ephraim broke the Bristol City duck in the first half with a clever finish before Malaury Martin equalised for the hosts with a powerful effort.

Ryan McGivern was sent off late on for City but Middlesbrough failed to test Dean Gerken, starting in place of David James, as much as they would have liked.

Finally, Barnsley ended a run of four straight defeats with a 1-0 victory over Peterborough despite playing for almost an hour with 10 men.

The Tykes, on a seven-match winless run and without finding the net in their previous four, took the lead after 24 minutes courtesy of David Cotterill's first goal for the club.

The hosts made things difficult for themselves when Nathan Doyle was dismissed 13 minutes before the break but they held on to pick up a crucial win and stop the rot.


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