Championship round-up: O'Connor too wise for Owls as McLeish goes on offensive

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The Independent Football

Frugal in defence, the Championship leaders Birmingham City had been equally parsimonious as goalscorers before manager Alex McLeish chose Garry O'Connor, Kevin Phillips and Cameron Jerome to start against Sheffield Wednesday. Not many dividends are being paid these days, but McLeish's decision paid in full as O'Connor, whose injury time goal was enough to beat Crystal Place on Tuesday, struck twice in the first half, an 11th-minute header and, four minutes later, his fifth goal of the season.

Between those strikes Etienne Esajas fired in a fine free-kick from distance to give the Owls hope, but after spurning two good chances Phillips added a third for Brum seven minutes before the break. Any chance of a Wednesday recovery ended when the visitors' Jimmy Smith was sent off with 21 minutes still to play.

"A very good performance following on from our midweek success," McLeish said. "We took it a step further against Wednesday. You could see the confidence in the players. Apart from the equalising goal we were generally well in control."

And O'Connor? "He is the best finisher in the club and now he is showing it here after doing it at Hibs and in Moscow," McLeish added. "He is linking up well with Kevin Phillips."

Below the top three, the Championship battle is again shaping up as the most competitive League in the country. Bristol City slipped from fourth to sixth after a goalless draw at Barnsley, the point lifting the Tykes out of the bottom three. That meant Cardiff City's 1-0 win at bottom club Nottingham Forest took them up to fourth. The result was decided by Ross McCormack's 10th goal of the season, a penalty after a foul on Stephen McPhail by Lewis McGugan, and a host of missed chances by Forest's hapless strike force.

Charlton Athletic, knocked back by the collapse of a proposed takeover, suffered more bad news at the Valley when Steve Thompson put Burnley ahead. But Svetoslav Todorov's late header salvaged a 1-1 draw for Athletic. "The draw feels like a win," their manager Alan Pardew admitted.

Two strikes from just outside the penalty area saw Ipswich Town midfielder Owen Garvan put his side in charge of their game at Plymouth Argyle. Kevin Lisbie added a third and although Ipswich's former Argyle favourite David Norris was sent off, it ended 3-1. Of the mid-table sides just a win away from the top six, Swansea City were far too good for Southampton, Darren Bratley, Jordi Gomez and Thomas Butler scoring in the comfortable 3-0 win. Roberto Martinez's side move up to seventh.

An exciting match in dreadful conditions at Bloomfield Road saw visitors Crystal Palace twice lead Blackpool through Paul Ifill and Craig Beattie, but they were pegged back by a Ben Burgess strike and Ian Evatt's header. It ended 2-2. Honours even, too, at the Ricoh Stadium, where Rob Hulse's header gave Derby County the lead but Clinton Morrison scored in injury time to earn the Sky Blues a 1-1 draw. Norwich City followed their midweek 5-2 demolition of Wolves with a luckier win over Doncaster. Leroy Lita, who scored a hat-trick on Tuesday, grabbed a late goal in a 2-1 victory.