Championship: Leeds United end 2019 on top as Fletcher stunner sinks West Brom

By Rob Lancaster 30 December 2019 26
Championship: Leeds United end 2019 on top as Fletcher stunner sinks West Brom

Leeds United overcame Birmingham City in a nine-goal thriller to move top of the Championship table as previous leaders West Brom suffered a shock home defeat to Middlesbrough on Sunday.

Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds benefited from an injury time own goal at St Andrew's, Wes Harding turning Luke Ayling's low cross into the net to settle a post-Christmas cracker.

The visitors had previously let slip a lead on three occasions during a see-saw contest, though by finding a late winner they leapfrog West Brom, who lost for just the second time in the league this season.

Fulham are up to third after a 1-0 triumph over Stoke City, with Brentford slipping back a spot in the standings after going down to Aiden O'Brien's eighth-minute goal at in-form Millwall.

Nottingham Forest moved up to fifth by beating bottom club Wigan Athletic, overtaking Sheffield Wednesday after the Owls went down 2-1 at home to Cardiff City. Preston North End also slipped up, beaten 2-0 at home by Reading. 

Elsewhere, Bristol City eased past Luton Town, Steve Mounie was the hero for Huddersfield Town in a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers and Hull City won by the same scoreline at QPR. Swansea City's meeting with Barnsley, meanwhile, ended in stalemate, the only goalless draw on a busy day in England's second tier.

 

LEEDS LEAVE IT LATE

There was no sign of the drama to come when Leeds moved into a 2-0 first-half lead, Helder Costa and Jack Harrison getting the goals.

However, Birmingham would continuously peg their high-flying opponents back. Lukas Jutkiewicz was on target twice for the hosts in the second half, including netting a stoppage-time equaliser that seemed certain to see the game finish at 4-4.

Yet full-back Ayling – who had put his team 3-2 up with a sensational long-range strike – made one final, telling contribution to proceedings, his run and cross from the right resulting in Harding's own goal.

 

FLETCHER FLATTENS BAGGIES

Middlesbrough recorded their first away win under Jonathan Woodgate as they upset the odds against promotion-chasing West Brom.

Centre-back Daniel Ayala put the visitors in front in the 17th minute and they defended stoutly until doubling their advantage in stunning fashion deep into stoppage time.

Ashley Fletcher opted to take aim from distance when a throw-in reached him midway inside the West Brom half, the forward smashing the ball over the head of Baggies goalkeeper Sam Johnstone to wrap up all three points and end Woodgate's wait for success on the road.

 

TOUGH FINISH TO 2019 FOR STRUGGLERS

It was a good day for Derby County – and they did not even play. The lowly Rams face Charlton Athletic on Monday but only one team – Barnsley, who kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw at Swansea – managed to close the gap on them at the foot of the table.

Wigan could have climbed off the bottom had they avoided defeat at Nottingham Forest, who took the lead through Tobias Figueiredo on the hour.

However, Forest needed a fine penalty save from Brice Samba – who guessed correctly to turn away Josh Windass' spot kick – to preserve their narrow advantage through to the final whistle, meaning Wigan will welcome in 2020 at the foot of the standings.

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Rob Lancaster

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