Jan 1 (Reuters) - Derby County missed the chance to close the gap to leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers to seven points after Leon Clarke earned Sheffield United a 1-1 draw at Pride Park in the Championship on Monday.
It was one goal each for the top goalscorers in England’s second tier as Matej Vydra scored from the spot to put the home side in front, before Clarke headed a second-half equaliser to take his tally to 15 for the season, one ahead of Vydra.
Derby stay in second despite the draw, and trail Wolves, who play Brentford on Tuesday, by nine points after extending their unbeaten run to seven league games. Sheffield United have now won just once in eight league games, but they remain in the playoff places in sixth.
Middlesbrough were the big winners as they climbed to within a point of the playoff places as new manager Tony Pulis enjoyed his first victory in the job, with his side edging a 3-2 thriller at Preston North End.
Defender Daniel Ayala gave the visitors the lead before Callum Robinson levelled. Then, after Jordan Hugill and Jonny Howson had traded goals, Ayala won it with a 73rd-minute header.
Fourth-placed Cardiff City’s promotion bid continued to falter as they suffered a fourth defeat in a row after a 2-1 loss at lowly Queens Park Rangers.
Joe Ralls’ 54th-minute spot-kick handed the visitors the lead, but Matt Smith levelled within eight minutes to set the stage for QPR debutant Paul Smyth to win it with 18 minutes remaining.
It also proved to be a frustrating afternoon for Leeds United, who were held to a 0-0 draw by managerless Nottingham Forest at Elland Road as they failed to bounce back from Saturday’s defeat at bottom-of-the-table Birmingham City.
Sheffield Wednesday’s poor run of form continued as they lost for the fifth time in six games at home to struggling Burton Albion.
There was joy too for Bolton Wanderers, who eased themselves out of the bottom three with a 1-0 victory over Hull City, with Gary Madine’s first half free kick the difference between the sides. That is now three wins in four games for the Championship strugglers.
Sunderland’s plight deepened as they slipped back into the bottom three after a 1-0 home defeat by Barnsley, while James Maddison was Norwich City’s match-winner as they came from behind to see off Millwall 2-1 at Carrow Road. (Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Christian Radnedge)