With the latest international break looming on the horizon, teams across the SkyBet Championship were eager to put on a show to send fans home happy and give themselves momentum heading to the imminent two-week break from action.
As ever, there were plenty of goals, drama and surprises to keep you on your toes, and today, we at Steele Sport take a detailed look into the weekend’s activity and who the big winners were across the second, third and fourth tiers.
Rewind to May 7th 2016.
A Cristhian Stuani goal – now a regular sight for fans of Girona FC in La Liga – was enough for Middlesbrough on the final day at home to challengers Brighton & Hove Albion to earn the point necessary for the Boro to return to the pinnacle of English football after a seven year absence.
But the mastermind behind it all? One Aitor Karanka.
Fast forward almost two and a half years, and the Spanish manager was returning to the Riverside with new club Nottingham Forest for only the second time since his sacking the following season.
A lot has changed at Boro since promotion and relegation to and from the Premier League, but as back in 2015-16, the North Yorkshire outfit head into this campaign on the back of playoff disappointment and as one of the heavy favourites to earn promotion back to the top flight under the guidance of the vastly experienced Tony Pulis.
And it’s no secret that Middlesbrough have started well – particularly at home – where they went into Saturday’s meeting with their still much loved former manager’s club having played five, won four, drawn one and conceded no goals at the Riverside in 2018-19.
Forest on the other hand could have been forgiven for being a little pessimistic heading into the fixture, having thrown away a two-goal lead at home to Millwall on Wednesday night and a record of just one win in their last thirteen trips to the Riverside – which ironically, came during Karanka’s tenure in Yorkshire.
The Reds lost the corresponding match-up last season 2-0 when Karanka made his debut return, and it wouldn’t have been a great shock to see the same scoreline again this time around.
For fans who had made the 260-mile round trip from Nottingham, that’s exactly what they did see – but maybe not in favour of the team they had possibly expected.
After a tight first half which saw Boro hit the bar despite an impressive Forest display, it was the visitors who exploded into life less than five minutes into the second courtesy of in-form talisman, Joe Lolley.
The January signing from Huddersfield picked the ball up about midway in the opposition half and drove forward before unleashing a venomous strike from outside the box into the far corner, giving Darren Randolph no chance in the hosts’ goal.
Forest were deservedly ahead, but Lolley wasn’t finished there.
The winger could have had a second with a volley that was smartly saved by the goalkeeper, but after former Reds striker Britt Assombalonga came off the bench to be foiled by Costel Pantilimon, Lolley turned provider.
After his corner was initially cleared, the 26-year-old received the ball straight back after an incisive pass from Ben Watson, and drilled a dangerous cross into the six yard box which was stabbed home – in true poacher’s fashion – by Lewis Grabban, who notched up his fifth goal since joining from Bournemouth in the summer.
Forest had seen a two goal lead slip just three days prior at home to relegation-threatened Millwall, but there was no danger of the same happening today, despite full-back Jack Robinson’s dismissal ten minutes from time for picking up two yellows.
Karanka’s new side professionally saw out the win – their first on the road this season – to lift them into fifth heading into the international break, whereas for his former charges, it was a big chance missed after an interesting result in the early kick-off.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds had to settle for a point at home to Brentford, but it could have been much worse for the Whites who had found themselves trailing to a second half penalty from the Championship’s top scorer, Neal Maupay.
The strike was Maupay’s tenth in the league this season, but it was cancelled out by Pontus Jansson’s 88th minute equalising header – earning ten man Leeds a point after Luke Ayling was sent off deep into stoppage time.
That result at Elland Road – combined with Boro’s home defeat – opened the door for in-form Sheffield United, and the Blades took full advantage with victory – albeit unconvincing – at home to struggling Hull.
Chris Wilder’s Blades won a tight Yorkshire derby courtesy of David McGoldrick’s spot-kick twenty minutes from time, in an outcome that secured the Bramall Lane side’s fourth straight win and saw them go top of the table for the first time this season, whilst Hull become the division’s new basement club.
Hot on the Blades’ heels are West Bromwich Albion, who came from behind to eventually comfortably dispatch of Reading 4-1 at the Hawthorns – helped in part by two more Dwight Gayle goals.
Joining Forest in the playoffs after an impressive away victory are Sheffield Wednesday, who recovered from losing striker Stephen Fletcher to a first half injury to win 2-1 at Bristol City on Sunday and go sixth, just six points adrift of their Steel City rivals.
Missing out on the top six however are Norwich – whose impressive unbeaten run was halted at home to Stoke – and Derby, who drew 1-1 away to former manager Steve McClaren’s QPR side.
At the bottom, there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel for Ipswich fans, as Paul Hurst earned his first win as manager in a topsy-turvy game at newly-relegated Swansea.
Despite trailing to an early own goal from Janoi Donacien, the Tractor Boys found themselves 2-1 up at half-time after two quick-fire goals – one of which also being an own goal from Swansea’s Mike van der Hoorn.
Manchester City academy graduate Bersant Celina levelled things up late on, but it didn’t last, as Ipswich won an engrossing Liberty Stadium contest through Chelsea loanee Trevoh Chalobah to lift them above Hull.
There were also welcome wins at the bottom for Preston, who thumped Wigan 4-0 at Deepdale, and Millwall, who lift themselves away from danger with a come-from-behind victory at home to managerless Aston Villa.
Elsewhere, Lukas Jutkiewicz scored a hat-trick to make it eight unbeaten for Birmingham as they beat Rotherham 3-1 at St Andrews, and Bradley Dack was on the scoresheet again as Blackburn won the televised Lancashire derby at Bolton 1-0.
It certainly wasn’t the only result that raised a few eyebrows on Saturday, but there was a major upset at Fratton Park as table-topping Portsmouth’s unbeaten record was left in tatters after a superb display from strugglers Gillingham.
The Gills went into the meeting on the back of a ten-game winless streak in all competitions – which even included a 4-0 hammering at Pompey in the Checkatrade Trophy a month ago – but Steve Lovell’s side threw the form book out of the window as Tom Eaves fired them ahead in the first half.
Alex Lacey made it two in stoppage time before the break, but despite it almost seeming inevitable their hosts would respond following the interval, it never came, and Gillingham held out for a morale-boosting victory that lifts them out of the relegation zone.
But despite their defeat, Kenny Jackett’s men remain top, after an even worse afternoon for Peterborough at London Road.
After successive draws, Posh were looking to respond at home to one of their automatic promotion challengers, but were embarrassed by a Barnsley team that ran riot against Steve Evans’ troops.
George Moncur opened the scoring before a Brad Potts double and Jacob Brown stoppage time goal rounded off a perfect afternoon for the visiting Tykes, who won 4-0 to go two points behind their opponents with a game in hand.
Sunderland also closed in on the top two with victory in an ill-tempered game away to Bradford which saw both sides reduced to ten men.
Jack Baldwin was the eventual match winner, scoring just two minutes after Anthony O’Connor had cancelled out Josh Maja’s opener, but the action was far from over as first Max Power was dismissed for the visitors before the Bantams also lost a man in stoppage time after Sean Scannell was sent off.
Bradford remain in the bottom four, but joining Sunderland and Barnsley in the top six are Walsall – who were 1-0 winners away to another relegation-battling side in Bristol Rovers – and Doncaster, who retain their place despite a crushing 4-0 home defeat to Fleetwood, as Accrington’s impressive unbeaten run was brought to an end 1-0 at Shrewsbury.
At the bottom, Wycombe lift themselves out of the drop zone and ahead of opponents Burton with a 2-1 win at Adams Park, Plymouth enjoyed their first victory of the season thanks to Freddie Ladapo’s goal at home to AFC Wimbledon and Oxford now sit bottom as a result after drawing a blank at Southend.
Meanwhile, Luton went to within two points of the playoffs with a 3-2 win at home to Scunthorpe, Amadou Bakayoko scored a late double to help Coventry come from behind to beat Charlton, and Blackpool made it nine league games unbeaten by drawing 2-2 with Rochdale at Bloomfield Road.
Lincoln City returned to winning ways and doubled their lead at the top of SkyBet League Two with a gritty 1-0 home victory over Crewe.
In a largely uninspiring game, it was a substitution from manager Danny Cowley that made the difference as Tom Pett fired an effort in less than sixty seconds after entering the action at Sincil Bank.
The Imps did have a chance to make the points safe late on through a penalty, but Ben Garratt saved from Lee Frecklington to prevent the scoreline from getting worse for the visitors.
It was far from a pretty win, but one that takes Lincoln four points clear as both Exeter and Newport failed to keep the pace.
The Grecians could only draw 2-2 away to Yeovil despite a brace from leading scorer Jayden Stockley, whilst County also picked up a point on their travels in a 1-1 draw at unbeaten Forest Green.
Portsmouth’s defeat in League One on Saturday means Rovers are now the only side yet to lose in the EFL this season, although that may not have been the case had Mickey Demetriou converted his second half penalty for the Exiles.
The Gloucestershire-based side retain their playoff place, as do both MK Dons and Stevenage, who recorded 3-0 and 3-1 home wins against Cheltenham and Colchester – the latter dropping out of the top seven as a result.
Taking the place of the Us are last season’s National League playoff winners Tranmere, who won a bonkers game at the Globe Arena against Morecambe.
After going behind inside a quarter of an hour, Micky Mellon’s men found themselves ahead at the break through Ollie Banks and Harvey Gilmour goals.
It was then 3-1 early in the second half as Jonny Smith got in on the act, but the home side fought back to equalise with ten minutes remaining.
Gilmour had the last laugh however, as the Sheffield United loanee curled in brilliantly to win it with the game in its dying embers.
Tranmere sit seventh, but their opponents Morecambe continue to struggle – sitting just two points clear of the drop zone.
The bottom two remains as you were, as Macclesfield lost 1-0 at home to Notts County – marking a third straight win for Harry Kewell’s Magpies – and Cambridge were beaten 2-0 at Crawley.
Northampton remain winless under new boss Keith Curle, although picked up a respectable point at Swindon in a 1-1 draw, whilst a first minute goal from Wes Thomas helped Grimsby to back-to-back victories with a 2-0 success at home to Port Vale, which lifts them away from the threat of relegation.
And rounding off this edition of EFL Weekly are Carlisle – who won 3-1 away to manager John Sheridan’s former side Oldham – and Mansfield, who are still yet to register a win on their travels after a 95th minute equaliser from Nicky Maynard earned Bury a 2-2 draw at Gigg Lane.