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Championship Focus: Week 16

Boo-boys aplenty at Hillsborough, Millwall surprise the Blades and Cardiff keep on winning.

Bolton Wanderers v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Testing times for Carvahal and Slutsky

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Hull City 2

Two under-fire managers clashed in a 2-2 draw at Hillsborough, punctuated by controversy and concluded with late drama. Both Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City fans are down in the dumps at the moment, frustrated by lacklustre performances and inadequate results, and in truth, Saturday’s scoreline will have done little to lighten either fanbase’s mood.

Having finished in the top six in both of Carlos Carvalhal’s first-two seasons in charge, the expectation was that Wednesday would be promotion candidates this year. Instead, they are eight points off the playoffs and have had to watch city rivals Sheffield United compete for the automatic places above them. Ahead of the game, Carvalhal called on the home fans to create a ‘positive atmosphere’ and to park their discontent, but Wednesday’s first-half performance did little to appease them. Ex-Palace striker Frasier Campbell scored the only goal of the first-half, giving Hull an unlikely advantage.

Hull manager Leonid Slutsky is under similar pressure though and when a Gary Hooper double turned the tie on its head, he will have feared that this was the end. The problems at Hull don’t all rest with the manager, with a fan protest against the club’s owners halting play in a recent home fixture against Forest. However, Slutsky has thus far failed to get the best out of a squad that was relegated from the top flight only last season, with the Tigers now only three points from safety. In fact, the Russian admitted that having sacrificed a two-goal lead against Bristol City last weekend, he nearly quit by his own accord. Thankfully for Slutsky, his side did claim a point in stoppage time and trigger a mass exodus from the frustrated home fans. Michael Dawson equalised in the 95th minute, finding space at the far post and poking home.

After the game, Carlos Carvalhal fumed that his side should have been awarded a penalty. Michael Dawson appeared to handle the ball when blocking an Adam Reach shot, but no penalty was given.

Although there wasn’t officially a ‘losing manager’ this weekend, it’s hard to see either of these two bosses weathering the storm for too long. Both will need a dramatic change in fortunes, starting with three points next weekend, as Wednesday travel to Norwich and Hull host an improving Brentford side.

Cooper helps Millwall blunt the Blades

Millwall 3 Sheffield United 1

Millwall v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Chance/Getty Images

In a clash of two recently-promoted sides battling at opposite ends of the Championship table, it was Neil Harris’ Millwall side that secured a crucial three points. After an impressive start to the season, Sheffield United have lost significant ground on the leaders in recent weeks, without a win in three games.

The home side took the lead within the opening quarter of an hour. Experienced striker Steve Morrison played a perfectly-weighted ball across the penalty area, allowing Lee Gregory to score his third goal of the season. Millwall continued to look a match for their opposition, but with four minutes of the first half remaining, the Blades levelled in style. 20-year-old David Brooks looks a real talent and Sheffield United rightly pinned him down to a four-year contract in October. It was his sumptuous volley (if he meant it...) that tied the half-time score.

The Lions regained their lead in the second-half. Young right-back Mahlon Romeo marked his first start of the season with his first professional goal, neatly finishing past the onrushing Jamal Blackman. Despite Sheffield United’s best efforts to take something from the game, it was a familiar face that wrapped up proceedings for Millwall. Jake Cooper’s aerial ability was always a threat during his Reading days, and when Jed Wallace’s looping free-kick arrived at the far-post, the Ascot-born centre-half rose the highest to head in off the crossbar.

Millwall have eased any relegation fears by climbing to 17th position and six points clear of the drop-zone. Sheffield United meanwhile drop to fourth and could be as far as ten points off the top by Monday night. The Blades play Bristol City next weekend in a pivotal promotion six-pointer.

Elsewhere in the Championship…

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

Cardiff continue to prove that they are viable title contenders, after registering another notable win over Norwich on Friday night. Joe Ralls, Junior Hoilett and Omar Bogle scored for the Bluebirds who will finish the weekend six points clear of third.

Bristol City are another side that continue to impress. Lee Johnson’s rise from zero to hero is gathering momentum, with a 2-1 victory against Boro moving the Robins to within one place of the top-two. Villa and Derby are also in the playoff places. Derby recovered from a disappointing home defeat against Ipswich by beating Burton Albion on Saturday, whilst Henri Lansbury’s equaliser secured a point for Steve Bruce’s side at Elland Road.

Brentford beat rivals Fulham by three goals to one. The Bees made a man-advantage count to climb into the top-half for the first time this season. Fellow West-London side QPR had no such luck. They ended their 1-0 defeat to Preston with just nine men. Ex-Royal Jamie Mackie was one of the two dismissed.

Ipswich Town have been a surprise package this season and Mick McCarthy will be pleased with their 4-2 home win against Nottingham Forest this weekend. Kieran Dowell scored an outstanding consolation for the away side. Meanwhile, Bolton climbed out of the relegation-zone with a 3-1 win over Barnsley. Gary Madine scored a brace.

Finally, top-of-the-table Wolves play on Monday night, when they make the short trip to St. Andrews for a Midlands derby with Birmingham.

Coming up next week:

Results are improving for Reading, so next weekend’s clash with Cardiff cannot come quickly enough. The Bluebirds have registered four successive wins, so will travel to the Madejski in-form. Elsewhere, Friday night’s game between Sheffield United and Bristol City will be worth a watch, whilst Wolves vs Sunderland will provide another intriguing test for Chris Coleman.