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FOOTBALL: LIFE AIN'T GRAND FOR JINXED JON!; Preston 0 Cardiff City 0 Broken hand puts Hallworth out for season.

IT'S becoming the odds-on certainty of the season that disaster will strike Cardiff goalkeeper Jon Hallworth on Grand National day.

Twelve months ago the 34- year-old suffered broken ribs on the day of the big race, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

And his injury jinx struck for a second time on Saturday as Aintree punters cheered home Papillon.

Hallworth broke his hand as he and his Cardiff teammates hung on for a valuable point against table-topping Preston.

The injury rules him out for the rest of City's battle against relegation - and Hallworth vowed he will scrub his name off the teamsheet this time next season.

The former Oldham man explained: "I'm not playing on this weekend in future. I'm going to go holiday or watch the race instead.

"I knew I'd broken my hand as soon as I did it. I could see the finger sticking out at a funny angle so I just popped it back in.

"I'll see the doctor when I get back to Cardiff but fractures usually take six weeks so Seamus Kelly will have to take over again.

"If he does as well as he did when he took over last season, the job is in safe hands."

Hallworth's injury was the only blemish on a battling performance that saw struggling City match the league leaders in every department.

The goalkeeper said: "That was an excellent point for us and it sets us up for the rest of the season. I didn't have that much to do and if we play like that against weaker teams, we'll be alright."

With centre backs Mike Ford, Jeff Eckhardt and Russell Perrett standing firm, midfielder Jason Bowen repeatedly stretched Preston with his elusive runs from deep.

It might even have been maximum points for Billy Ayre's side if striker Kurt Nogan had made more of the two opportunities that fell his way either side of the break.

Only a 73rd minute goal- saving tackle from North End centre back Ryan Kidd prevented former Preston striker Nogan from denting his former club's championship ambitions.

As it is, Preston must now wait for next week's promotion showdown with third-placed Bristol Rovers to get their championship challenge back on track. For the second week in succession, North End were firing blanks as they struggled to overcome bottom four opposition.

And whilst their midweek victory over Wigan demonstrated Preston's pedigree as champions elect, scoreless draws against first Blackpool and now Cardiff may be a sign that the jitters are beginning to strike David Moyes' men.

A five-point comfort zone with just a handful of games remaining should be more than enough to see the Deepdale o utfit through.

But Moyes admitted that the form book goes out of the window at this time of year and that the toughest opponents are not always their nearest rivals. The Preston boss said: "At this stage and the way we are playing at the moment, the big games are suiting us better.

"The game at Bristol Rovers is as big as they come at this time of the season and we are looking forward to it.

"The so-called smaller games against teams like Cardiff and Blackpool are big games for them and they are desperate to pick up points in their fight against relegation.

"Cardiff came here looking for a point, played five men at the back and made things very difficult for us.

"But I wouldn't swap positions with anyone at the moment. We're out in front and if it means us just picking up the odd point here and there to get us over the finishing line, then so be it."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Martin, John
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 10, 2000
Words:611
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