Hull City in title hunt, but fears grow for Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United

Grant McCann says Hull City will return to the Championship in a better state than they left it, as the identity of the clubs they will be joining became a little clearer.

Reading’s 2-2 draw with Swansea City yesterday confirmed Barnsley’s place in the play-offs following a fortunate 1-0 win which left visitors Rotherham United running out of time to escape relegation.

Sheffield Wednesday can still save themselves but a 3-1 defeat at Middlesbrough makes it extremely unlikely.

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The Tigers won 2-1 at promotion hopefuls Lincoln City to return to a division they left ignominiously last season.

Hull City players celebrate promotion to the Championship. Picture: PA.

Hull suffered a dramatic mid-season collapse in 2020, intensified by the January sales of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki. It reached a nadir with July’s 8-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic.

Despite that, and perhaps recognising they were more to blame, the club’s controversial owners made an unpopular decision to stand by coach McCann, and allowed him to keep the bulk of the squad whilst adding the likes of Richie Smallwood, Greg Docherty and Lewie Coyle.

In addition, Hull have handed debuts to eight academy graduates this season, whilst centre-back Jacob Greaves, son of former defender Mark, and – after settling a contract dispute – 12-goal Keane Lewis-Potter have established themselves as mainstays.

It means McCann believes Hull return to the division healthier.

“Definitely,” he said, “because you learn. I know what I did wrong last season and the players who were part of it will understand what they didn’t do right.

“We’ve got a lot of young lads who’ve signed professional contracts (this season) and others coming through.”

With two matches left, McCann’s focus is on the goal he set at the start of the season – the club’s first league title since 1966. As it stands, they must beat Wigan (home) and Charlton Athletic (away), although if McCann’s previous club Doncaster Rovers pull off an unlikely win at Peterborough United tomorrow, two draws would effectively do it.

“It would be amazing,” said McCann, also a former Peterborough player and manager. “There’s one thing getting promoted but the title is a different kettle of fish. We got the first bit done, now we’ve got to try and win the league. We’ll do everything we can.”

Barnsley coach Valerien Ismael felt his side’s win over Rotherham reflected both club’s seasons.

The Millers were the better side but conceded a controversial early goal by their former striker Carlton Morris which saw goalkeeper Viktor Johansson go off injured.

Barnsley’s displays have dipped lately but it has not stopped them winning four of their last five matches.

“It was a really, really poor performance,” admitted Ismael. “Rotherham deserved more than to lose the game but nobody will speak about the performance, it is just all about the three points and we did our job.

“In a season when everything goes in the right direction, you win such a game. If it goes in a bad direction, you lose.”

Rotherham, who failed to overturn Matt Crooks’s midweek red card, remain four points from safety with two games in hand, but now have just four to play.

“It feels like us against the world,” reflected manager Paul Warne.

“Especially with the decisions this week and the fact we have virtually played a quarter of the season in a month, it has just been stacked up against us. For that (goal) to happen in the first minute just added to it.

“I don’t believe our team deserves to be relegated. If they do, then I will be hugely disappointed for them as they give everything and they have been dealt a bad hand in recent weeks. It has been killing us, really.”

Sheffield Wednesday are level on points with their neighbours, but have just Nottingham Forest (home) and Derby County (away) to play. They lost Tom Lees on Saturday to what looked a serious ankle injury.

“I felt we should have got something out of the game with our chances,” said assistant manager Jamie Smith, his assessment typical of a relegation-bound team. “Their goals were a lack of concentration.”

Watford secured automatic promotion on Saturday, leaving Bournemouth, Brentford and Swansea to contest the play-offs with Barnsley for a place in the Premier League.

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