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Championship playoff race: Two Yorkshire clubs and a New Zealand big man

Saturday 25th February 2017
Chris Wood was the man who separated Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United in the big Championship clash this Saturday lunchtime, seeing the Peacocks stretch away from their Yorkshire rivals in the race for promotion.
There is a resurgence in Yorkshire football this season. With Hull City challenging the notion of buying to survive, scuppering the traditions of Ye Old Englishman with a continental, and yet industrious, foreign manager at the helm, Sheffield United seemingly set to finally overcome their annual bottling close to a League One promotion push and the playoff positions in the Championships littered with underachieving giants of the Yorkshire land, it is certainly a year in which the football of God's own country has flourished.

On Saturday, two of those giants clashed in a game that was, no matter what either manager may have said before or after the game, instrumental in both side's attempts to secure their place in the lottery that is the playoffs, with the hope of receiving a ticket to the Promised Land, a place that neither club has inhabited since Leeds relegation in 2004.

Sheffield Wednesday, the big spenders of the Championship having recently acquired Jordan Rhodes in the January transfer window, travelled to Elland Road in the hope that a win would overhaul their local rivals. Leeds United, though, are a side made of sterner stuff under Garry Monk. While the controversy of their rather unpredictable owner still hangs over the club, the former Swansea manager has done a tremendous job with a squad that is meriting of the club's playoff push.

That is not to say that the club does not boast talented individuals. Pontus Jansson is an excellent centre-half, as is his partner Kyle Bartley. Pablo Hernandez is a creative force, playing in a free-roaming role, given the freedom to influence the game wherever he can by his manager. However, they are not blessed with the riches of their visitors. At least, not in terms of depth.

There was one towering figure, though, that put his side head and shoulders clear of their challengers. Kiwi, Chris Wood, has been in outstanding form this season. Before Saturday's game, he had scored 22 goals in all competitions, including 19 in the Championship. Against Wednesday, he added yet another to his ever-growing collection.

With a hint of offside in the build-up, Wood peeled of Vincent Sasso, who was utterly unaware of the drifting run that Leeds' primary threat had made. As the ball sailed over Sasso's head, with the centre-half painfully out of position, Wood had the awareness and calmness to bring the ball down before simply poking past the onrushing Keiren Westwood. It was a lovely finish to a move that has been a staple ingredient of the big man's success this season.

There was another moment of inspiration for the promotion hopefuls. After Sam Hutchinson was hauled over in the penalty area, Rhodes, the figurehead of Wednesday's spending revolution, stepped up, seemingly confident. Rob Green, though, had other ideas. He leapt to his left and palmed the side-footed penalty onto the post and eventually to safety. It was a wonderful save from the now 37-year-old, and it puts his club three points ahead of their visitors and into fourth position in the table.

Wednesday will still expect to be in the playoffs when May comes around but, thanks to the touch of Wood and the left palm of a former Hammer, their task is now far more difficult than their money would have hoped. This Championship playoff race still has a long way to go. Who'd have thought that Yorkshire and New Zealand would meet in such dramatic circumstances?
Andrew Dowdeswell

A sport obsessed 20 something who just really wants Arsenal to finally win the league. Please Wenger, what the hell happened to you?!


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