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Championship Focus: Week 17

Adkins inspires Hull win, Flint is Bristol’s hero and Wolves’ winning-streak comes to an end.

Hull City v Brentford - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images

A positive start for a positive manager

Hull City 3 Brentford 2

“The positivity of being positive is so positive” (Nigel Adkins, October 2014)

Former-Reading manager Nigel Adkins returned to the dugout this weekend and oversaw a crucial first win as the newly-appointed Hull City manager. The struggling Tigers ripped up the form book, beating an improving Brentford side by three goals to two.

Adkins earned mixed reviews from Reading fans during a twenty-one-month tenure at the Madejski. His cheery disposition and optimistic outlook attracted many admirers in the first instance, as did his record at Southampton with whom he had achieved back-to-back promotions the previous year. However, his failure to keep the club in the top-flight and subsequent inability to secure a playoff place the following season, albeit on the final day, didn’t meet our high expectations.

A couple of embarrassing drubbings spring to mind when I think of those seasons - at Peterborough in the League Cup most notably, and then at Birmingham in his final game in charge.

Stirred by the arrival of their new boss, the home side showed resilience and craft to overcome a Brentford side who dominated possession. They had to come from behind after David Meyler prodded into his own net early in the second-half, but the response arrived just seven minutes later. Polish international Kamil Grosicki found space at the edge of the box and shot powerfully past Daniel Bentley.

With twenty minutes to go, a showing of exceptional quality put the home side in-front. Ex-Sunderland midfielder Sebastian Larsson curled in a trademark free-kick from long-range. Hull increased the deficit moments later when Jackson Irvine drove forward from midfield to make it 3-1, before John Egan set up a nervy finish, heading home for the away-side.

Hull held on to register their first win in eight games and signal a turnaround in fortunes under their new manager. The playoffs are fifteen points away and surely remain out of reach, but with relegation fears momentarily eased, Adkins will have plenty of time to develop a squad capable of mounting a challenge next season. The future may well be bright for Hull fans, or as Nigel would say, ‘positive’.

Early Christmas cheer for the Robins

Sheffield United 1 Bristol City 2

Sheffield United v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Bristol City’s unlikely promotion challenge was boosted on Friday night, as Lee Johnson’s side overcame 10-man Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. A stoppage-time winner from astoundingly prolific centre-back Aden Flint bagged a third successive win and ensured that they ended the weekend in third place. How apt that ‘the Robins’ head into a busy Christmas period in phenomenal form.

As the Royals found out in October, Bramall Lane can be a very tough place to visit and City found themselves under pressure in the opening exchanges. Mark Duffy’s sumptuous effort hit the post, before a magnificent save from Frank Fielding denied Billy Sharp from close-range. Bristol’s resolve paid off and, two minutes before the interval, a fine goal from Jamie Paterson silenced the home crowd.

Few were more excited to see the net ripple than the Bristol City social media department, who proudly unveiled a customary, Christmassy and borderline cringeworthy new GIF:

Shortly after the break, Sheffield United drew level. Once ‘journeyman’ striker Leon Clarke has scored no fewer than fourteen goals this season, the latest of which rifled past Fielding for 1-1. Duffy hit the post for the second time, but hopes of a Blades comeback were dashed moments later when John Fleck was sent off for a reckless two-footed lunge on Korey Smith.

The away side took advantage in stoppage-time. Flint, who was courted by Birmingham in the summer, fired home his sixth goal of the season in the 91st minute, sparking pandemonium in the away end. The defender barely had time to brush his teeth before the final whistle sounded:

Bristol’s upturn in fortunes has been nothing short of extraordinary and Lee Johnson, whose job was anything but secure last season, deserves enormous credit. They play Forest at home next week, before a novelty Carabao Cup tie with Manchester United.

Elsewhere in the Championship…

Cardiff City v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Wolves were held for the first time in seven games by a gritty Sunderland. Lee Cattermole was sent off for Chris Coleman’s side, but the Black Cats kept a clean sheet and secured a crucial point. Burton and Birmingham also remain in the drop-zone. Burton lost 2-1 at home to Preston, whilst Birmingham lost 1-0 to Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Forest won an entertaining contest with Bolton. Joe Worrall scored at both ends, but Forest held on to win 3-2. Kemar Roofe was Leeds’ star man on Saturday, scoring a hat-trick at Loftus Road in their 3-1 away victory. Former-Royal Matej Vydra’s excellent form continued. He scored his twelfth of the campaign, helping his side to a comfortable win over Barnsley.

Norwich won their first home game since September, to ease pressure on Daniel Farke and do little for Sheffield Wednesday fans’ confidence in Carlos Carvalhal. James Maddison, Timm Klose and Nelson Oliveira all found the net for the Canaries to complete a second-half comeback. Meanwhile, Aston Villa fired blanks against Millwall and Middlesborough revived their playoff push with a 2-0 win over Ipswich.

Coming up next week:

Reading travel to Ipswich next weekend, a side that have performed better than expected this season and currently hold ninth place in the Championship table. If Carlos Carvalhal is still the Sheffield Wednesday boss on Friday night, then he faces the gargantuan task of springing a surprise on leaders Wolves, and on Saturday, Derby County vs Aston Villa is my pick of the fixture list.