New year, new chance for promotion hopefuls Leeds United and Sheffield United

Leeds  United's head coach Thomas Christiansen.
Leeds United's head coach Thomas Christiansen.
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LEEDS UNITED head coach Thomas Christiansen and Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder are calling on their promotion-chasing sides to strike back at the earliest opportunity today – after shock defeats to sign off in 2017.

A downer on a rewarding December which had seen them take 13 Championship points from a possible 15 saw Leeds lose out 1-0 at relegation-threatened Birmingham City, who claimed their first win in eight matches.

Meanwhile, the Blades went down 1-0 at home to Bolton Wanderers, who won their first Championship away game in 999 days since Easter 2015.

Leeds, in fifth position and the sixth-placed Blades face East Midlands opponents today, with the Whites hosting managerless Nottingham Forest – who sacked Mark Warburton yesterday – and Wilder’s side visiting form side Derby County, now up to second.

Christiansen, likely to start influential midfielder Samuel Saiz today, said: “December was a very good month. I will not attach anything on the Birmingham game. It was just not our day.

“We had an opponent who we knew would be dangerous, even in the position they are.

Leon Clarke of Sheffield United looks on as George Baldock of Sheffield Utd buries his head in his hands in frustration during the Championship match at Bramall Lane Stadium

Leon Clarke of Sheffield United looks on as George Baldock of Sheffield Utd buries his head in his hands in frustration during the Championship match at Bramall Lane Stadium

“That is what they showed on the pitch, but we need to forget about Birmingham and for sure we are going to make a good performance (against Forest).”

A key month for the Blades begins with today’s trip to Pride Park, with Wilder also keen to bring in some new recruits to boost their promotion aspirations and hopeful that money is made available to strengthen in the transfer window, with a central midfielder being a priority.

Wilder, whose side who have won just once in their past eight games, said: “If we carry on the way we are, we might sustain our position.

“If we improve, then we might improve our position.

December was a very good month. I will not attach anything on the Birmingham game. It was just not our day.

Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen

“But if we stay the same, or we drop, then I think we will have a situation we have had over the last four or five games.

“There is no doubt in my mind we have been the better team in all those games, apart from the Fulham game. But you have got to marry up being the better team to winning a game of football.”

At the other end of the Championship, January also takes on seminal importance for relegation-threatened duo Barnsley and Hull City after both recorded contrasting draws on Saturday.

The Reds rescued a late point in a 1-1 draw with Reading, which saw their winless streak extend to a worrying 10 matches, while Hull’s costly Achilles heel of conceding key late goals continued in a 2-2 draw with visiting Fulham.

The struggling Yorkshire duo start the new year with huge survival six-pointers, with the 20th-placed Reds visiting the side just below them in Sunderland.

Meanwhile, Hull, one point and place above Barnsley, visit third-from-bottom Bolton and if both White Rose sides lose this afternoon, they will both find themselves in the relegation zone.

Both Barnsley head coach Paul Heckingbottom and Tigers counterpart Nigel Adkins are also anxious for some key transfer window business to help turn around their respective club’s season.

On the need for new arrivals, Heckingbottom said: “One hundred per cent. It is something I have been saying for a long time. Lots of players have strengths here and we have some really good players in there.

“But when your strengths are similar and deficiencies are similar, you become a one-trick pony. At the end on Saturday, we put a centre-half up front – it is something we have got to address.

“We need to sort it out at the earliest opportunity. But it stretches back longer for me. We moved so quickly and then dismantled our squad so quickly. We are starting again in one of the toughest leagues in the world.”

Meanwhile, Adkins has set Hull a target of winning 10 of their last 21 games to avoid relegation.

He said: “You have got to look at the table and it shows we need another 10 wins to ensure we are in the division next season. You have to get over that 50-point mark to start off, but I was well aware of that when I came in.”

Interim manager Lee Bullen leads out Sheffield Wednesday for the first time at Hillsborough this afternoon against lowly Burton, with the Owls seeking their first home win in five outings.

Tony Pulis takes charge of his first Middlesbrough away match when his side visit fellow top-six candidates Preston.