Some half-time truths helped to spark a dramatic Sunderland improvement as the Black Cats came from behind to beat Plymouth 3-1 and climb into the Sky Bet Championship’s top six.

Michael Beale’s side trailed at the break after Ryan Hardie’s opener for Plymouth, but Sunderland were transformed after the restart and extended their unbeaten Championship stretch to three games with three “special” goals.

Pierre Ekwah levelled for the home side seven minutes after half-time before Jack Clarke’s stunning 14th goal of the season just before the hour mark. Substitute Jobe Bellingham then wrapped up the points just two minutes after coming off the bench with a fine third.

“We only played in one half, to be honest,” said Beale, whose side have now won successive games at the Stadium of Light.

“We started the game well, but we really fell away and there were too many individual errors.

“We went really bold with our line-up and it certainly impacted our cohesion early in the game, I wasn’t pleased with our pressing.

“We had honest words at half-time, got out there early and I thought from the moment we kicked off, we were much much better.

“We scored three excellent goals and we’re mixing around the goalscorers now as well. It was three special goals.”

Beale endured a difficult start to life at Sunderland, but is excited by what his youthful side are capable of.

He said: “We’re a young team and so we always can get better. In that first half, there weren’t too many in a Sunderland shirt who did themselves justice and we spoke about that.

“We spoke about wanting to excite our fans at home, to run, play front-foot football and for people to express themselves.

“I could have made five subs, but I told the players that I thought it was the right team and they had to put it right.

“We didn’t want any regrets and I expected more. The second half was fantastic and we have to stay at that level.”

For Plymouth boss Ian Foster, it was a first Championship defeat since replacing Steven Schumacher as Argyle head coach.

He congratulated Sunderland on a “wonderful second-half performance”, but was critical of referee Anthony Backhouse.

Foster was frustrated at the fact his side were down to 10 men when Jack Clarke scored the home side’s second goal, with midfielder Adam Forshaw having received treatment for an injury.

He said: “My understanding is a player has to spend 30 seconds off the pitch, which he did, and they won’t allow him on.

“I got told then the fourth official must get a signal from the referee to allow him back on, which he does straight after they score, which is disappointing.

“In that moment, it’s become very costly for us. He’s got injured, he’s received treatment, I don’t understand why it’s a punishment.

“I’ll try and choose my words carefully here, if I was the referee I’d go home disappointed tonight having watched the game back. I thought it was a very one-sided decision-making process from him.”

Enzo Maresca said his Leicester side delivered a “complete performance” following a 2-1 victory at Watford that maintained their 11-point lead at the top of the Sky Bet Championship.

Patson Daka’s 10th-minute penalty and a 55th-minute effort from Ricardo Pereira appeared to have put Maresca’s team on course for a comfortable victory.

But a mistake by Foxes midfielder Harry Winks gifted Watford substitute Emmanuel Dennis the chance to reply in the 63rd minute and the visitors were forced to go on the defensive to protect the points.

And Maresca – who insisted he had got everything he wanted on his 44th birthday – said the combination of his side’s forward efforts together with their late resolve summed up their progress this season.

“We got three points and yes we are happy because it has been a complete performance in terms of we play when we have to play,” he said.

“And we suffered together, after the goals we conceded we lost a bit of confidence but overall I’m happy.”

He added: “It has been a complete performance because when we needed to play, we played the way we want to play. It’s part of the season we are trying to change some things.

“I can understand that the only thing that people can see is just get promoted. But for me get promoted is just at this moment.

“This was a club in transition last summer with lots of important players leaving.

“There are many more thing we have done. But I can understand the focus is on promotion, but we are changing many things.”

And the manager was adamant he would not criticise Winks for the misplaced pass that set Dennis up for the Watford reply.

He added: “The mistake is part of the process. I always said that if they try to do what we work on everyday and make a mistake, then it doesn’t matter. But if they don’t try, then they are not going to play.

“At the end Harry was a bit sad and upset, but it’s not any problem. And we are very happy with the second goal. It was very nice and the performance was good as well.”

Watford boss Valerien Ismael was pleased with his side’s efforts against the league leaders, and in particular ending a run of three games without a goal – even if he was unhappy at the decision to award a penalty after Leicester’s Dennis Praet went to ground after a challenge from Giorgi Chakvetadze.

“I’m really proud of the players and pleased with the performance and mentality they showed,” he said.

“In this game, you saw we had bad luck. After one minute, Bayo was injured and we needed to change the plan. After that, a soft penalty. I’ve been many years in English football and that was a soft penalty.

“Even when 1-0 down, we were disciplined and we were aggressive.

“I said at half-time it was still 1-0, and we had to be patient. It would have been wrong to have lost our heads and pushed too much.

“We had two or three situations on the edge of the box when we should have taken one or both to get back into the game.”

Blackburn first-team coach Damien Johnson saluted an “outstanding” performance after they beat Stoke 3-1 to move away from relegation trouble.

Rovers went into the game with the worst form in the Sky Bet Championship, which resulted in Jon Dahl Tomasson leaving as boss on Friday and John Eustace now in the hot seat.

Johnson and fellow first-team coach David Lowe took the team for the game, with Eustace coming into the dugout in the second half, and he will have enjoyed the performance as they raced into a three-goal lead to shellshock their opponents.

Tyrhys Dolan’s close-range finish set Rovers on their way before the Championship’s top scorer, Sammie Szmodics, headed a second and Dolan’s composed finish put Blackburn in dreamland.

Former Blackburn striker Niall Ennis pulled one back before the break but Daniel Johnson saw his weak penalty saved just after half-time and Blackburn comfortably stopped the rot, registering a first league win since December.

Johnson praised Blackburn’s players for responding to the “difficult” last few days.

He said: “I’m not going to lie, it feels good. It’s been a difficult couple of days. Great credit to the players. It’s not easy for them but I thought they were outstanding today.

“Their concentration, their application, how they went about it, the togetherness they showed as you could see towards the end, was superb, so great credit to them.

“They did lots of good things. I think we showed two sides of the game today. Lots of good things in the first half and then we dug in.

“We knew that we’d find space on transition so there was an element of allowing Stoke to come onto us. I think at times in the game we could look after the ball better but when you’ve had a run of results like this, the important thing is you get three points.”

Stoke have won twice in the last 17 games and are only three points clear of the drop zone.

Steven Schumacher said: “The start is just not good enough. If you give a Championship team a 3-0 head start, then you’re doomed, because they don’t really have to do anything else in the game.

“That’s kind of what we did. We didn’t start the game well enough. They scored goals that were too easy to score and gave ourselves a mountain to climb.

“From the third goal onwards, I thought we looked better, we looked like a team. We were positive, we passed the ball forwards which we didn’t do up until they scored the third goal, and we won some tackles and some duels which is the bare minimum.

“We’ve got to show a bit more character, a bit more belief, a bit more bravery. More importantly, we’ve got to show a bit more fight.”

Liam Rosenior felt Hull’s 1-0 home defeat to Swansea was deserved after they dropped out of the Sky Bet Championship’s top six.

Liam Cullen scored after 10 minutes as the Swans pulled further away from the relegation zone by beating a Hull side who lacked the final pass to open up their opponents.

Rosenior admitted: “We didn’t deserve anything today. One of the few times I can say that since I’ve been here.

“When you do that, you give the opposition momentum. Credit to Swansea, we gave them a leg up and they won the game.”

Swansea benefited from Cullen’s free run into the area and Rosenior admitted his players needed to be more astute in that kind of situation.

He said: “If we mark the player properly we don’t get blocked. That’s the things we work on in training.

“One, our performance wasn’t good enough by our standards, and two, we’ve cost ourselves a point.

“We gave the ball away cheaply and when you do that you give the opposition energy, you give them oxygen.

“I told (the players) what we have to improve on. We have to bounce back from the setbacks. We need to learn on the job.”

Cullen got the only goal of the game when he ran into the Hull area to meet a low corner with a pinpoint shot which nestled in the bottom-left corner of the goal.

Hull looked short of the ideas which could have unlocked the determined defending of Swansea and their best chance fell to second-half substitute Billy Sharp.

The forward got on the end of a long pass from Ozan Turfan and prodded the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Carl Rushworth, only to see Nathan Wood race back to clear short of the goal-line.

Turfan had headed straight at Rushworth when the ball fell to him unmarked in the Swansea area in a first half where the Tigers lacked the nous to unlock the visitors’ defence.

Cullen could have doubled his tally in the second half only to shoot wide when well-placed.

Luke Williams felt his side deserved to take the win and also praised the work of assistant Alan Sheehan on set-pieces after Swansea claimed the winner from a well-worked corner routine.

Williams said: “I think the players deserved that, a fantastic performance and even more fantastic result.

“There are quite a few things, the openings that we made were very deliberate.

“I loved the work-of-art set-piece, and the players delivered on that and scored.

“When you watch Alan go to work on a set-piece and then see the players deliver on that it’s a privilege.

“We scored a goal away from home against a very good team and the back-line led us well, they kept us aggressive.”

Williams praised Cullen for the way he had come into the team in place of Jerry Yates to score the only goal.

“Liam has come in said ‘I need to do the same level of work that Jerry has done and take my chance’.

“We have lovely competition between these two players, it’s good to develop this kind of rivalry within the team.

“I really felt a strong positive energy in the changing room going into this game and we played like we believed.”

Manchester United academy product Mark Helm was singled out for praise after Burton’s much-needed 2-1 win over Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium.

Helm’s fifth goal of the season added to Ciaran Gilligan’s opener to help the Brewers move four points clear of the League One relegation zone.

And Albion manager Martin Paterson was thrilled with attacking midfielder Helm’s display.

“Mark is a really talented player and I’m really pleased with him because he had a really good game,” Paterson said.

“The most important thing is that even though he’s a flair player, he works very hard for the team.

“There were lots of good, positive actions from him in that final third but there’s so much more there.

“He works really well down that left side and shows just how intelligent he is by sneaking into great little pockets where we can find him during transitions.

“He has got really good qualities but my test for him now is to go and get more goals.”

Gilligan put the visitors ahead two minutes before half-time with his first senior goal.

Helm added a second when his low shot beat Jed Ward in the 57th minute.

Rovers skipper Antony Evans hit back on the hour to set up a tense finale, but Burton held on.

Paterson added: “It was a really well-deserved win and I say that with humility.

“It looked like nearly a complete performance but we shouldn’t have conceded a sloppy goal.

“We were structured and well organised but we always carried a threat going forward.

“It’s a good win but there’s no reason to start getting carried away. I’m programming the players’ minds that we’re trying to catch teams ahead of us.

“From that they come in knowing to climb up the table and that’s why I’m really pleased with this win.”

Rovers manager Matt Taylor had a case of deja vu after he experienced a home defeat against lowly opposition for a second time in a week.

“I feel the same as I’ve felt too often this season,” said Taylor, whose side lost 2-0 to Fleetwood last Tuesday.

“I can’t hide away from the fact that every time we come up against this type of challenge that we fall short and that’s a reflection on myself and the group, so it’s a painful one.

“More physicality is needed and we’re short in that department. When we attack and the ball goes out, 10 seconds later we’re defending our box and that happens every single time.

“Regardless of who I change it happens and I’m looking for different formations and solutions to search but I guarantee it won’t change.

“That’s due to the nature and DNA of the squad which is not to go towards the ball.

“We’ve got to find a way of protecting them but I can’t protect against a goal-kick.”

Marco Silva believes Rodrigo Muniz played his “best performance in a Fulham shirt” after he scored a brace during their 3-1 Premier League victory over Bournemouth.

Muniz, who scored his first-ever English top-flight goal in Fulham’s 2-2 draw with Burnley last week, netted his third strike in as many games alongside goals from Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Bournemouth’s Marcos Senesi.

Silva lauded the performance of the 22-year-old forward as Fulham claimed their first league win since New Year’s Eve.

“I’m really pleased for him and he really deserves it,” Silva said.

“When you have the chance, you have to step in and pop up and show your quality and it was the moment for Rodrigo to do it.

“This afternoon was probably his best performance in a Fulham shirt and he deserves it because he’s worked really hard.

“He had a good pre-season followed by a bad injury, but now he’s coming back and he’s fighting for what he wants and he’s showing the desire to play as the Fulham striker.

“The way he linked our game and played behind the pressure of the midfielders was really good.”

January loan signing Armando Broja came off the bench but failed to match Muniz’s performance up front.

Silva insisted that – much like the rest of the squad – the Albania international would have to wait his turn to claim a starting XI spot.

When asked if Broja would have to be patient, Silva added: “Not just him, but everyone.

“He’s a player who is here to help us and I believe he will help us. It’s competition between strikers and I will decide what is best for us in each game.

“We believe Armando will help us in the next few months because he is a player with a profile which I think will help.”

Fulham did not look back after De Cordova-Reid’s strike gave them the lead after five minutes. The potent winger capitalised on Lewis Cook’s slip before he drilled the ball home from six yards out.

Muniz poached Fulham’s second of the match, nine minutes before the break. Willian lofted a cross to De Cordova-Reid at the back post, who turned creator by nodding his effort into the danger zone and Muniz scored from inside the six-yard box with a roofed finish.

Bournemouth needed a response and they got just that five minutes into the second half when Senesi pulled one back for the visitors but – just two minutes later – Fulham responded in fashion when Muniz grabbed his second of the match.

Cherries manager Andoni Iraola believes the early goal hampered his side’s performance.

He said: “We conceded too much in the beginning of the game and we didn’t get nothing from today.

“Especially the first goal. It can’t happen, it’s a slip in a dangerous position.”

Ryan Lowe lauded Emil Riis after the striker scored his first goal in more than 15 months to help Preston win 2-0 at Cardiff in the Sky Bet Championship.

The Danish forward fired beyond Jak Alnwick in the 30th minute to put the Lilywhites ahead against the run of play at Cardiff City Stadium – with Ben Whiteman notching Preston’s second five minutes before the break.

It was Riis’ first goal since returning from a year-long lay-off due to a knee injury, with his last strike coming against Middlesbrough in October 2022.

And boss Lowe said Preston are doing everything in their power to mould Riis into the “perfect” centre-forward.

“We’ve all been waiting for Emil to come back,” said Lowe. “He looked strong physically, I’m pleased with his goal, for him and his team-mates, they’re all pleased for him.

“The build-up to it was fantastic and the way he took it, so I’m really pleased for him. It’s huge to have him back.

“At some point he’s going to have to have a break. We’re just trying to mould him into a perfect striker. But we do need to be careful with him.

“We can’t just slog him all the way through, we’ll manage his days and his loads.

“I’m just pleased for him getting on the scoresheet today after having that long period of time out, as a striker it’s pleasing.”

The Bluebirds controlled the opening 30 minutes but were restricted to efforts from distance, with Kion Etete and Karlan Grant both testing  goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.

But Preston looked far more comfortable after taking the lead, with Cardiff’s new-look squad unable to overly concern Woodman.

Aaron Ramsey returned from a five-month absence owing to a knee injury while Nat Phillips, Famara Diedhiou, Josh Wilson-Esbrand and David Turnbull all made their home debuts for Cardiff.

And Bluebirds boss Erol Bulut, whose side are now winless in their last five home games, called for patience as his new players gel in the team.

“We need patience, all of us,” he said. “We’ve got new players, four or five new players.

“We try to get them adapted to the team quickly. I thought Nat was quite good, Wilson came in, but they have to know their team-mates much better and their movements.

“This will come over the next few games. We have many games in the next few weeks and we have to show it.

“We have to continue to show them what they need to do. I hope the next few games will be much better.”

Defeat in the Welsh capital leaves Cardiff seven points adrift of the Championship’s top six.

Victory – their first on the road in six matches – moved Preston to within two points of the play-off spots.

Gary Caldwell could not hide his delight at marking his first return to Wigan as an opposition manager with all three points after Exeter ran out 2-1 winners in Sky Bet League One.

Latics had recorded two victories at Exeter in the first half of the campaign – following up a 2-0 win in the league with an FA Cup first-round victory by the same score.

As a result, restoring the balance at the DW Stadium was just what the doctor ordered for Caldwell, who was also locking horns against his old Wigan, Celtic and Scotland colleague Shaun Maloney.

Deflected goals from Mo Eisa and Jack Aitchison had Exeter two goals up heading into the final quarter, with Charlie Kelman’s first Wigan goal 19 minutes from time proving to be only a consolation.

“I actually thought that was the best that Wigan played in all three matches,” said Caldwell.

“They gave us so many problems in possession, I thought they were excellent, the way they kept rotating their shape and asking questions.

“First half out of possession we were outstanding, the way we set-up, the understanding of how we could restrict them trying to play through us.

“Second half they put even more men forward and asked even more questions, and put us under a lot of pressure.

“We had to really defend our box to see it through, but football is a really funny game.

“I thought we played much better in the first two games and came away with nothing.

“Although we were excellent out of possession today, in possession I know we can play a lot better, but it was a good one to win.”

When asked whether the result meant slightly more given the circumstances, Caldwell replied: “I don’t think so, other than obviously where both sides are in the league.

“I do feel for Wigan because of the points deduction, they shouldn’t be where they are in the table.

“That’s unfortunate and I think they have dealt with that extremely well this season.

“But in terms of our league position, and the run we’ve been on, I think it was important we didn’t lose today.

“You could see with the attitude of the players and the way they worked out of possession, there was a real spirit and a determination not to get beat – and fortunately we got the win.”

For opposite number Maloney, it was a tough result to take on the back of last weekend’s victory at high-flying Peterborough.

“I imagine I’m feeling very similar to how Exeter would have been feeling on definitely one of the occasions we won down there,” he said.

“It was a really tough result to take because the second half in particular was everything I want to see from my team moving forward.

“We needed more intensity in that second half, I thought we lacked intensity without the ball in that first half.

“We started the game well, Thelo (Aasgaard) had a couple of good chances and Martial (Godo) another with his header.

“But 1-0 down, I didn’t like the feeling in the group and I needed to see more intensity.

“I was really happy with the players who came on, although I must say the players they replaced have all been really good for me as well.

“It just felt like I needed to make a momentum change, which happened in the second half, but unfortunately we lost a second goal on the break.

“In the end, it was just too big a challenge for us to pull it back at the end.”

Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou heaped praise on “world-class” Son Heung-min after he helped inspire a dramatic 2-1 victory over Brighton.

Spurs looked set to drop more points after they had been held to a 2-2 draw at Everton last weekend but Brennan Johnson struck in the sixth minute of stoppage time to fire them back into the Premier League top four.

Son created the winner with a wonderful delivery across the face of goal on his first appearance since he returned from the Asian Cup, where his nation South Korea suffered semi-final disappointment.

Postecoglou introduced Son and Johnson with 28 minutes left and the duo eventually helped the hosts earn all three points after Pape Sarr’s 61st-minute goal cancelled out Pascal Gross’ opener for the Seagulls from the penalty spot after 17 minutes.

“Obviously Brighton were doing really well but they were working really hard to stay in the game and you know they’re going to get tired,” Postecoglou explained.

“The fact we could bring on two attacking players who are going to be a threat, it maybe looks simple but that ball that Sonny plays, that’s a world-class player in a clutch moment.

“Even Brennan getting on the far post, we’ve helped him to do that.

“It’s not about confidence, I feel like with the squad we have for today and hopefully moving towards, we do have that ability irrespective of where the game’s at, to finish games strong.”

On Son, Postecoglou continued: “Maybe the nation he plays for works against him but I think he’s a world-class player.

“You look at his record in the Premier League, the toughest league in the world, his goal contributions irrespective of how the team’s gone through the time he’s been here have always been right up there.

“Even this year, before he left, I think he was probably the best attacking player in the competition, just my opinion obviously. Certainly he’d be up there.

“He’s a world-class player. I thought we did well to cover his absence.

“Richy (Richarlison) obviously stepped up in terms of goal threat, and a few other players, but to have a world-class player for the run-in is brilliant for us.”

Brighton were crestfallen at full-time and deserved more in the absence of Roberto De Zerbi, who was back in Italy recovering after he had invasive dental surgery this week.

Andrea Maldera patrolled the touchline in his absence and watched Brighton go ahead via a Gross penalty after Danny Welbeck had been fouled in the area by Micky van de Ven.

It could have been 2-0 before half-time but Guglielmo Vicario saved Kaoru Mitoma’s poked effort and Spurs finished strongly before Sarr equalised when he curled home after Lewis Dunk deflected his cross onto the post.

The points looked set to be shared after Welbeck fired wide with 14 minutes left but Richarlison sent Son away and he squared for Johnson to slam home with seconds of the six minutes of stoppage time remaining.

“Yes, to concede a goal in the 96th minute in transition away, it is very tough, but this is our mentality,” Maldera said.

“We want to score always the second goal. We don’t think to stay in our half.

“Yes, we can do better but the last pass, Son is a big player, but until that moment we played a big match, with big courage.”

Brennan Johnson struck the winner in the sixth minute of stoppage time to fire Tottenham into the top four after a dramatic 2-1 victory over Brighton.

Spurs looked to have lost more ground after they dropped points at Everton last weekend but Ange Postecoglou’s second-half substitutes did the trick.

Pascal Gross’ 17th-minute penalty had given Brighton a half-time lead in the absence of boss Roberto De Zerbi, who was recovering at home after invasive dental surgery this week.

The points looked set to be shared after Pape Sarr levelled for Tottenham in the 61st minute only for Son Heung-min, back again after Asian Cup duty, to tee up fellow substitute Johnson deep into stoppage time to earn a vital victory.

Brighton assistant Andrea Maldera patrolled the touchline in De Zerbi’s absence and should have watched his team take the lead inside 60 seconds.

Danny Welbeck won back possession from Micky van de Ven by the halfway line and dribbled into the area but Guglielmo Vicario clawed away his shot.

Spurs continued to be sloppy in possession and it was no surprise when Brighton took the lead in the 17th minute.

Gross tackled Rodrigo Bentancur and the ball worked its way to Welbeck, who was caught on the ankle by Van de Ven inside the penalty area.

Without the injured Joao Pedro, Gross took on spot-kick duties and sent Vicario the wrong way for his fifth goal of the season.

Postecoglou’s side did mount a response with Richarlison impressively denied by Jason Steele after a fine through ball by James Maddison, who himself curled wide from 18 yards soon after.

In between had been a flair-up between Cristian Romero and Adam Lallana, which referee Sam Barrott was happy to wave on despite protestations by the Brighton midfielder.

The Seagulls almost doubled their lead prior to the half-hour mark when Bentancur again lost possession but Kaoru Mitoma – back from Asian Cup duty – had a poked effort tipped wide by Vicario from a tight angle.

Spurs did finally start to click in attack towards the end of the first 45, with Richarlison flicking wide from a Timo Werner cross and Dejan Kulusevski forcing Steele into a low save.

Richarlison also squandered a promising position ahead of half-time with Maddison free to his left to ensure it remained 1-0 to Brighton at the break.

Tottenham maintained their momentum after the restart with a Maddison free-kick saved before Werner’s mazy run ended with his shot deflected wide.

It started three corners in quick succession for Spurs but after they failed to make the most of them Postecoglou turned to his bench.

Yves Bissouma, Johnson and Son were all ready to come on when the equaliser did arrive with 61 minutes played.

Kulusevski was the architect with a wonderful through ball releasing Sarr and while his cross was deflected onto the post by Lewis Dunk, the Senegal midfielder was on hand to curl home with his left foot to make it 1-1.

Postecoglou made his triple change immediately after but it failed to have the desired impact aside from Son teeing up Johnson for a snapshot straight at Steele.

Brighton were now in the ascendancy and should have gone back ahead with 14 minutes left when Mitoma got in behind Porro but Welbeck arrowed his cutback past the post.

A minute later and Van de Ven had to throw himself in the way of Facundo Buonanotte’s strike before Spurs had penalty appeals for a handball by Dunk turned away.

Hopes of a late goal were raised when six minutes were added on and with seconds left Richarlison played in Son, who crossed for Johnson to slam home a dramatic late winner.

Slumping Oxford missed the chance to climb back into the League One play-off places as they were held to a 1-1 draw at top-six rivals Blackpool.

The Tangerines led through a goal from Matt Pennington in the first half but Mark Harris got the visitors back level three minutes later.

United could not find a second as their winless run extended to five games, leaving them a point behind sixth-placed Stevenage and five clear of their opponents in eighth.

A header from Pennington opened the scoring in the 18th minute after Blackpool captain Ollie Norburn found the centre-back from an Albie Morgan corner.

Oxford were quickly level when Elliot Moore set up Harris to finish from close range following a scramble in the Blackpool box.

The U’s continued their pressure and Harris was denied a second after his goal-bound shot was impressively blocked by defender Marvin Ekpiteta.

Oxford went within inches of an 87th-minute winner but Billy Bodin’s header struck the woodwork as their wait for a victory extended to a month.

Sheffield United cut the gap to safety to seven points as they claimed only their third Premier League win of the season with a 3-1 victory against Luton at Kenilworth Road.

Rob Edwards’ side were the form team in the relegation fight but here they were undone by the Blades, in part due to a lacklustre first half in which Cameron Archer and James McAtee – from the penalty spot – scored to open a two-goal gap.

Luton had taken 11 points from their last six games, with Sheffield United just two in the equivalent period, yet despite dominating possession the hosts were tripped up by a dogged display by the league’s bottom side.

They rallied after the break, halving the deficit with a penalty of their own from Carlton Morris.

Yet in pushing for an equaliser they were left exposed on the break, and on just such an attack Vinicius Souza rattled one past Thomas Kaminski to seal a first win on the road for Chris Wilder’s side and shine a glimmer of hope over their survival bid.

Blades flashed Luton a warning almost from the kick-off, McAtee wrapping his left boot around the ball and sending it an inch wide of Kaminski’s post. It was the only chance of a furtive opening during which the visitors lost defender Rhys Norrington-Davies to injury after three minutes.

Luton looked most dangerous down the left where Morris and Alfie Doughty linked up well, tormenting Jayden Bogle on the right of a Blades back five. But on the whole, the first quarter passed in a stupor, with little of the intensity that brought Edwards’ team a 4-0 win over Brighton here last time out.

The tempo threatened to accelerate just before the half-hour mark when Archer dragged badly wide on his left with only Kaminski to beat, as home fans’ anxieties were piqued.

Fortunately for the visitors he would have another chance moments later and this time there was no mistaking the outcome.

Archer bounced the last defender Gabe Osho off the ball with a firm shoulder and sprinted infield off the left. Bearing down on the goalkeeper, he shaped to go for the far corner but instead cleverly pulled it inside the near post for 1-0.

It would get better within minutes, with Reece Burke penalised by an on-field VAR check for handling Souza’s header. From the spot, McAtee fired his side into their first two-goal lead of the season.

Sheffield United had never lost a Premier League game having led by more than a goal, yet any hope Wilder might have had of frustrating the hosts and closing out the game were shot down five minutes into the second half.

Another handball decision, awarded when referee Chris Kavanagh was again summoned to the pitchside monitor, gave Luton a way back, Souza this time the offender as he leapt to head away a corner. Morris stroked home the penalty, and home fans sniffed a famous comeback.

Morris forced goalkeeper Wes Foderingham into a save scrambling low to keep the ball from creeping into the bottom corner, emphasising the fragility of the Blades’ lead.

But Luton could not maintain their buoyancy and with 18 minutes to go they were two behind again.

Osho looked initially to have snuffed out the danger when he dispossessed Archer running at the heart of the defence.

Yet instead of clearing his lines, he lazily gave the ball away to Ben Osborn, who looked to his right to find Souza overlapping.

With a swing of his right boot, the Brazilian lashed it across Kaminski and in for 3-1.

Paddy Lane cemented Portsmouth’s place at the Sky Bet League One summit with the game’s only goal as the leaders defeated bottom side Carlisle 1-0 at Brunton Park.

Lane scored his 10th goal of the campaign – and third in two games – to break the Cumbrians’ stubborn resistance after 62 minutes.

But the scorer was indebted to substitute Abu Kamara’s surging run and incisive through-ball minutes after coming off the bench.

Portsmouth’s victory completed a league double over Paul Simpson’s side and condemned their hosts to a sixth successive defeat.

That is Carlisle’s worst run in the league for more than two decades and they also set an unwanted club record of 25 league games without a clean sheet.

The now 46-point gulf between the teams was not, however, always evident.

Portsmouth were not at their best, notably in the first half when Carlisle’s Jordan Lane went close several times.

Tom Lowery almost broke the stalemate for Pompey, roared on by 1,848 travelling fans, only to hit a post after 34 minutes, leaving Lane to finally settle the contest.

Aaron Pierre scored late on to cancel out a Max Bird strike and earn Shrewsbury a 1-1 draw at Derby.

Shrewsbury closed Derby down at every opportunity and denied the home side a clear sight at goal until the 25th minute when James Collins just failed to connect with a free-kick.

Derby had another chance in the 34th minute with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing cutting in from the left and unleashing a shot which Marko Marosi pushed away.

The visitors had done a good job of stifling Derby but their resistance was broken in the 54th minute when a corner picked out Bird who fired a low shot under Marosi from 15 yards.

Marosi kept his side in it by turning a Conor Hourihane free-kick behind and that proved crucial when Shrewsbury equalised in the 87th minute.

Mal Benning got behind Derby on the left and pulled the ball back for Pierre to drive a low shot past Joe Wildsmith.

In a frantic finish, Wildsmith denied Carl Winchester before Curtis Nelson struck the Shrewsbury bar.

Qatar retained the Asian Cup title as Akram Afif scored a hat-trick of penalties to seal a 3-1 win over Jordan in Saturday's final.

Afif kept his cool three times from 12 yards at Lusail Stadium, completing his first international hat-trick, and becoming the first player to score one in the final of an Asian Cup.

Yazan Al Naimat had brilliantly dragged maiden finalists Jordan level, cancelling out the first of Afif's spot-kicks, in the 67th minute.

Yet with the help of VAR, referee Ming Na rightly awarded a further two penalties the hosts' way, with Afif's composure ensuring Qatar became the first team since Japan in 2004 to win successive Asian Cup titles.

 

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