The importance of Michael Kightly to the promotion challenge of Wolverhampton Wanderers has been vividly illustrated in the past couple of weeks. His absence through injury had coincided with their dip in form but his return has seen them storm to the top of the Championship, and yesterday he scored both goals at Molineux in the 2-0 defeat of an obdurate Burnley that saw Mick McCarthy's side open up a six-point lead at the top.
After 31 minutes, a Kightly shot hit a post and he kept his nerve to tap in the rebound as Wolves controlled the first half. Burnley responded after the break, but a swift counter-attack saw Sylvan Ebanks-Blake set up Kightly's second. The Clarets then had Clark Carlisle sent off.
"As good a performance as we've done because we kept a clean sheet," McCarthy said. "We looked a bit more solid. We didn't get carried away when we lost three and we are not getting carried away now we have won a few," he added.
The division's other form team, Reading, continued their goal-scoring spree with a 3-0 defeat of Derby County at the Madejski Stadium. Noel Hunt headed in brother Stephen's 20th-minute corner and Kevin Doyle added two more goals to take his season's total to 11. "In this division you need two strikers who can score you 40 goals," Royals manager Steve Coppell reasoned, "and I think we have that here."
But second-placed Birmingham City's star continues to wane and they were held to a 1-1 draw in the Midlands derby at Nottingham Forest, who stay in the bottom three. James McFadden gave the Blues an early lead but Forest deserved their equaliser from James Perch's stooping header early in the second half.
"It was a very poor performance after we scored the goal," Blues manager Alex McLeish admitted. "It was almost as if we waited for something to happen for Forest. When they scored there was still plenty of time for us to get back on top but nothing happened. I expect better than that from our boys."
In the two Yorkshire derbies, James Beattie scored twice at Oakwell as Sheffield United cemented their top-six place with a 2-1 win over Barnsley. The Blades' Ugo Ehiogu and Tyke Anderson de Silva were sent off after appearing to try to headbutt each other and Barnsley manager Simon Davey was sent to the stands, incensed by the award of the 85th-minute penalty that gave Beattie his second goal. Meanwhile, Leon Clarke's header, two minutes before the break, saw Sheffield Wednesday beat bottom-club Doncaster Rovers 1-0 at Hillsborough.
Ipswich Town's rise has been quiet but their 1-0 win at Blackpool, David Norris scoring, saw them move up to within a point of the top six. Bristol City are level on points with Ipswich after Lee Johnson's cool right-foot finish earned a 1-0 win at Southampton.
Having won at Birmingham last Monday, Coventry City highlighted the inconsistency of much of the division when they were beaten 2-0 at home by Crystal Palace, Clint Hill and Ben Watson scoring. "Lacklustre, arrogant, blasé," the Coventry manager, Chris Coleman, said of his team.
Norwich City and Preston North End drew 2-2 at Carrow Road. The Canaries' Darel Russell was sent off with the score at 2-1 and Neil Mellor scored Preston's late equaliser. Charlton Athletic's 2-2 draw at Plymouth Argyle was good enough to lift them out of the bottom three and ease the pressure on manager Alan Pardew.