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Championship Focus: Week 27

Sunderland salvage a dramatic draw, Barnsley boost their survival hopes and plenty of goals at Loftus Road.

Queens Park Rangers v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Harry Murphy/Getty Images

Pulis rattled late-on by a familiar face

Sunderland 3-3 Middlesbrough

Tony Pulis’ tenure at Middlesbrough has been anything but plain sailing and his former player Callum McManaman dealt a telling blow on Saturday. The ex-West Brom midfielder scored a stoppage time equaliser for Sunderland in a north-east derby, before taunting Pulis in celebration. The Scotsman ran over to the opposing dugout and cupped his ear in the manager’s direction.

Before McManaman’s equaliser, Boro’ had climbed into the top-six on Saturday afternoon. The game started in frantic fashion, Joel Asoro netting for Chris Coleman’s side after eleven minutes, but an excessively forceful challenge from Jordan Clarke-Salter merited a straight red and relinquished Sunderland’s advantage. Adama Traore is often Boro’s dangerman, but this was not a game to remember. The lightning-quick winger was involved in an off-the-ball scuffle and was also dismissed, letting rip at the fourth official as he trudged off.

After the break, Middlesbrough finally gained a foothold. Patrick Bamford showed a striker’s touch to score the first and, when Assombalonga capitalised on some comical defending to win a penalty, Grant Leadbitter gave his side the lead. The game had burst into life and Sunderland rallied once more. Cattermole shot narrowly wide but, soon after, Jonathan Williams found the net for the game’s fourth goal.

It was reasonable to suggest that Bamford’s second of the game had wrapped things up, the striker rounding the keeper and finishing with aplomb, but late drama was in store. McManaman turned home deep into added time and an enthralling derby ended 3-3.

For Boro’ this was a chance missed. With twelve games remaining they stay adrift of the playoffs and, with an enviable pool of talent to choose from and an experienced manager onboard, anything less than a top-six finish would represent a disappointing season. Sunderland, meanwhile, remain firmly in the mire, but another late-show may lift the dressing room. They’re four points from safety, seven from Reading and have Millwall to play next weekend.

Is Morais the answer for Barnsley?

Birmingham City 0-2 Barnsley

Burton Albion v Barnsley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

It’s been a harrowing few months for Barnsley. The Yorkshire club had won just once in their last eighteen games, lost their well-respected manager Paul Heckingbottom to a bitter rival and were freefalling into the drop-zone. However, a first win under new manager Jose Morais has given the Tykes fresh optimism in their survival battle, with more winnable games to come.

The little-known Morais has a wealth of coaching experience, including spells as the assistant manager at Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea, working under Jose Mourinho. Most recently, the 52-year-old managed AEK Athens in Greece, but lasted just fourteen games. Barnsley’s new ‘special-one’ is the first managerial appointment under their new board, a consortium including a Chinese billionaire and Billy Beane, the baseball boss known for the ‘Moneyball’ system.

Two first-half goals from Oliver McBurnie secured the points on Saturday against their relegation rivals Birmingham. The Swansea loanee’s first was cooly taken as he swept Mamadou Thiam’s cross past David Stockdale for 1-0, but the experienced goalkeeper got the better of him soon after, when McBurnie squandered a chance from the penalty spot. There was little that Stockdale could do about McBurnie’s second. The lofty Kieffer Moore headed down inside the six-yard box, where the goalscorer was ready to pounce.

Neither team are safe, but with time running out and ‘relegation six-pointers’ in limited supply, Barnsley will be delighted to have taken their opportunity. Could Morais’ regime scramble them to safety and build the foundations for a successful campaign next year?

Elsewhere in the Championship…

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Fulham’s recent form is staggering. Unbeaten in twelve league games, the Cottagers saved their best result of the season for this weekend. They defeated runaway leaders Wolves by two goals to nil, courtesy of goals from the in-form youngster Ryan Sessegnon and the explosive Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Goals were not only flowing at the Madejski this weekend. Forest took all three points from a seven-goal thriller at Loftus Road, prevailing as 5-2 winners. There was also a belter at Hillsborough, where Aston Villa came from behind twice to win 4-2. Former-Royal Lewis Grabban scored his second goal of the week and twelfth of the season.

Hull’s match-up with Sheffield United on Friday night had to be delayed amidst protests. Fans threw yellow sponge balls onto the pitch at the KCOM Stadium, demanding a change in the club’s ownership. When the match resumed, the Tigers secured a crucial victory, thanks to Nouha Dicko’s goal.

Paul Heckingbottom registered his first win as Leeds manager, his side beating Brentford 1-0. The Bees had beaten Birmingham 5-0 earlier in the week but couldn’t replicate that feat at Elland Road. Cardiff also won 1-0, edging past Bristol City on Sunday to retain second place.

Millwall secured their fourth successive away win, simultaneously denting Burton Albion’s survival hopes. Meanwhile, Norwich played out a bore-draw against Parky’s Bolton and Ipswich’s Mustapha Carayol scored the only goal at Deepdale.

Coming up next week:

After a belter at the Mad Stad this weekend, Reading fans will be hoping for similar entertainment on Tuesday night in the visit of Sheffield United. A positive result midweek would give the Royals confidence ahead of a trip to Wolves at the weekend. The other midweek game features two of Reading’s relegation rivals Hull City and Barnsley, whilst Derby County vs Fulham is my pick of the weekend’s action.