Championship: What happened on Saturday as Leeds march on and Neil Warnock makes a winning start at Middlesbrough

By Owen PhillipsBBC Sport
Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock
Boro boss Neil Warnock was his usual calm and considered self on his return to the dugout

It was a good day for a couple of the new faces in charge of struggling Championship sides.

The wily Neil Warnock made a winning start as Middlesbrough manager, masterminding a fine away success at Stoke City, while Luton Town's Nathan Jones oversaw a rare away victory which meant he wasn't left thinking about a lazy summer barbecue.

At the other end of the table, Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United took a giant stride towards promotion by beating rivals Fulham.

Here's a glance through the main stories from the crucial second round of matches following the second tier's return after the enforced break because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Marching on to... promotion?

Ezgjan Alioski of Leeds celebrates his goal against Fulham
Leeds substitute Ezgjan Alioski made a big impact after coming on, grabbing the second goal and sparking a much-improved second-half display

Could this finally be Leeds United's time?

A convincing 3-0 win over Fulham took Bielsa's men back to the Championship summit.

And maybe, just maybe, a side who so often have seemed unplayable at their best will be seeing Premier League football again next season after a painful 16-year absence.

Leeds are now eight points clear of third-placed Brentford - 1-0 winners over second-placed West Brom on Friday - with seven games to play after goals from Patrick Bamford, Ezgjan Alioski and Jack Harrison secured a 22nd league win this season.

"In every match we are going to talk about qualification and the table, and it's very difficult to interpret anything from the circumstance," Bielsa said in a welcome variation of the well-versed "taking each game at a time and not looking at the table" speech. "The win was very necessary for us."

Victory was even more necessary for counterpart Scott Parker, who has all but given up hope of making the top two.

The Fulham boss said: "It is going to be a big ask to go up automatically, but I wouldn't write it off because the unexpected could happen with the way the division is and games are."

And with a seven-point point deficit to second-placed West Brom to overturn, their chances appear even slimmer with 23-goal top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic likely to be banned after an apparent off-the-ball elbow on Ben White that went unpunished early on.

However, Fulham still need to go to The Hawthorns, where a win could rekindle their hopes and boost those of Brentford, who only face two sides in the top half of the table during their final seven games.

But after beating the Baggies, Bees boss Thomas Frank is not looking too far ahead.

"Of course we have big dreams but the biggest thing for us is to focus on the next game," Frank said. "It was a good, 100% performance and we controlled the game well but if we don't perform against Reading on Tuesday night it won't feel as good."

A winning start on another Warnock last hurrah

Ashley Fletcher scores for Middlesbrough
Ashley Fletcher's first goal since early February gave Middlesbrough the lead at Stoke

New Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock was always likely to make an impact on his latest return to management, so the vital 2-0 victory at fellow strugglers Stoke came as no surprise.

The 71-year-old has not been beaten in his first game in charge of a club since losing 2-1 to Bradford City as manager of Oldham Athletic in February 1997, a run of 10 unbeaten debuts.

Since the combustible Yorkshireman first vowed to retire come the end of the 2005-06 season, he has had eight "last hurrahs" at six different clubs.

Potters boss Michael O'Neill told BBC Radio Stoke his team had been muscled out of the game early on.

"We allowed ourselves, in the first 20 minutes of the game, to be bullied. We didn't deal with the physical threat," O'Neill said.

Warnock was understandably more upbeat: "I have been missing that banter around the dressing room so it is good to be back, but even though this was a great result, we're miles away from being safe yet.

"It was a good team performance. They flung their bodies on the line and I love to see that."

After almost 1,500 matches as a manager, can what may or may not be Warnock's final, final farewell - at the 16th club of a 40-year managerial career - save Boro from relegation to League One?

Nathan Jones, you've been gone too long

Luton Town manager Nathan Jones
Things are looking up for Luton and their new/old boss Nathan Jones

Looking up at the entire division from the foot of the table and with just three away wins in 19 Championship games, Luton Town fans were probably not feeling too optimistic prior to their day in Wales facing play-off chasing Swansea City.

But a dogged 1-0 victory, taking their on-the-road tally to 13 points from a possible 60, left Jones delighted to have made the return to his homeland.

Jones, who hails from the Rhondda Valley, now has two wins at Swansea this season, having been in charge of Stoke when they won 2-1 there in October.

"We had belief we could stay up before we came into this game, but we have to instil it with results," Jones said. "Results rubber-stamp the belief and that's what today will do.

"If we had no belief, why come here? I could have stayed in my garden and had a barbecue. We believed we have enough in this squad. Now, we have to pick up the points to prove that.

"We came here to win. As an away performance from a team at the bottom of the league, it was an outstanding display."

The Hatters are now second from bottom and only three points from safety after a four-game unbeaten run. Facing leaders Leeds away in their next fixture does look a big ask.

But with games against fellow strugglers Barnsley, Huddersfield Town and Hull City, as well as mid-table QPR and Reading, to come in their seven-match run-in, there seems to be a realistic sense of optimism about their survival chances.

Bullish Bowyer and Cook's not-so-magic touch

Boro and Luton and were not the only teams in the lower reaches to have a good day.

A defiant Charlton Athletic boss Lee Bowyer said the 1-0 win over QPR proved that talk of ending the campaign on a points-per-game basis was "ridiculous" after moving three points clear of the bottom three.

Cardboard cut-outs of Charlton fans
The Charlton fans seemed to enjoy the London derby at The Valley

And Wigan Athletic manager Paul Cook insisted there was no magic formula behind his side's eight-game unbeaten run following the victory over Blackburn Rovers.

A hopelessly out-of-form Hull City side managed to earn a point from a six-goal thriller away against Birmingham.

But they were leading 3-2 with two minutes to play, and boss Grant McCann waded in about his side's defending, describing some of it as "criminal".

In the play-off race, there were important wins for Cardiff City and Derby County, who beat Preston North End and Reading respectively.

Cardiff move into the top six, three points ahead of Derby and Preston. Just six points separates fifth-placed Nottingham Forest and Bristol City, who are 12th.

Huddersfield Town, who have dropped into the bottom three, are away against Forest on Sunday.

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