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Championship Focus: Week 8

Blades win thriller at Hillsborough, Parky under pressure, and Leeds keep marching on.

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

Blades win pulsating Sheffield derby

There was huge anticipation ahead of the first Steel City derby since 2012, and my word, it didn’t disappoint! In an enthralling six-goal thriller, Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United beat their arch rivals by four goals to two.

In front of a packed-house at Hillsborough, the away side broke the deadlock after only three minutes. John Fleck hammered home, the end product of a perfectly-executed set-piece routine. Former-Wednesday striker Leon Clarke then latched onto a hopeful long ball and slotted past Kieren Westwood for 2-0. The home fans were shell-shocked. Wednesday have quality in their ranks though, and when Gary Hooper lashed into the net right on half-time, the turnaround was not an impossibility.

Sure enough, Wednesday started the second half with renewed vigour, and substitute striker Lucas Joao levelled the game, cueing roars of jubilation and relief. 2-2. In fact, celebrations were still ongoing, when Mark Duffy picked up the ball on the edge of the box for the Blades. He shifted the ball left, then right, and blasted home from a tight angle. 3-2 to the away side, and Hillsborough silenced once more. There was still time for United to rub salt into Wednesday’s wounds. Leon Clarke’s second of the game, sealed the points, and secured all-important bragging rights for the travelling fans.

Sheffield United now sit 4th – an incredible start for a team in their first season back in the second tier. Their spirit and togetherness is evident, and there was no shortage of quality on show this Sunday, particularly impressive given the notable absentees of Billy Sharp and Clayton Donaldson up front. Could Chris Wilder’s side be dark-horses for a playoff challenge?

Parky under pressure at Bolton

West Ham United v Bolton Wanderers - Carabao Cup Third Round Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The statistics make dreadful reading. Bolton sit bottom of the Championship, five points adrift of safety, and with a goal difference of -15. Their three-nil defeat to Brentford on Saturday completes a run of eight successive defeats in all competitions, in which they have failed to score in the last six. Bolton are the only remaining winless side in the division, and with two away games at Bristol City and Aston Villa up next, it will take an almighty upset to change their fortunes this coming week.

Brentford, also winless ahead of their visit to the Macron, produced three moments of quality to secure the three points. They opened the scoring in sumptuous style. A beautifully floated free-kick from centre-half Yoann Barbet picking out the top corner. In the second half, another masterful strike doubled the Bees’ advantage. Nico Yennaris let rip from range, the ball looping over a hapless Bolton keeper. Brentford could breathe easy with six minutes to go, when talented youngster Ollie Watkins cut inside, and his emphatic finish sealed a comfortable win.

After the game, a deflated Parkinson told the BBC:

“When you have lost 3-0 at home to a team who hasn't won all season I can't take any positive from the game. Have we got enough quality to stay up? At the moment it would appear not, but we have got to keep searching to find a way."

The ex-Reading captain, is a legend to many at the Madejski, as are two of his playing staff, the ever-popular Jem Karacan and goal-poacher Adam Le Fondre. I’m sure I’m not the only Royals fan that would love to see Parky turn it around, but for now, things look pretty bleak.

Elsewhere…

Colchester United v Aston Villa - Carabao Cup First Round Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

It wasn’t the most inspiring week of Championship football, with six draws, three of which ended goalless. Millwall will be pleased with a point away at in-form Preston, Burton Albion earned a valuable point in a snooze-fest at Loftus Road, and Norwich fans have had to endure back-to-back stalemates, this time against Bristol City. Birmingham’s caretaker manager Lee Carsley will be pleased to have held Derby at Pride Park, and two late goals ensured a share of the spoils between Fulham and Middlesbrough.

We have three leaders pulling away at the top of the Championship table though – Leeds, Wolves and Cardiff. Leeds won 3-2 against Ipswich, Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Kalvin Phillips again on the scoresheet. Wolves left it late to beat Barnsley by two goals to one, Alfred N’Diaye grabbing a dramatic injury-time winner. Then, Cardiff returned to winning ways at the Stadium of Light; a Joe Ralls penalty proving the difference.

Finally, are we seeing the beginning of a revival for Steve Bruce’s Villa? They have now registered back-to-back league wins for the first time since April, the latest a 2-1 victory over Forest, courtesy of a Conor Hourihane free-kick.

Coming up next week:

It’s another double game-week of Championship football, as Reading travel to the New Den to face Millwall on Tuesday night, before a televised late kick-off on Saturday against Norwich. Midweek, Cardiff vs Leeds is the pick of the bunch, and could even be seen as an early ‘six-pointer’ in the race for promotion. At the weekend, I’m interested to see if Wolves can break down a plucky Burton side, and my attention is drawn to Leeds again, as they travel to Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday afternoon.