By Robin Hackett
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Derby went back to the top of the table after a 3-1 win over Cardiff at Pride Park.
Derby went top of the league after a 3-1 victory over Cardiff thanks to goals from Steve Howard and Giles Barnes.
The result puts Derby three points clear, although Birmingham could regain their position when they play their game in-hand on Sunday.
Neither side looked happy to settle for a point at Pride Park, with the home side lining up in a 4-3-3 formation and both sides having good chances early on - Michael Chopra and Barnes in particular went close.
Derby took the lead following a controversial penalty call when referee Martin Atkinson ruled that Steve Thompson had handled the ball in the area, and Howard (28) converted the resulting spot-kick.
But the lead did not last long as a skewed James McEveley clearance allowed Paul Parry (32) to tuck the ball in following a one-on-one with keeper Stephen Bywater.
Barnes (49) spurned a good opportunity to put Derby back in the lead shortly after the restart, but moments later he went clean through to make it 2-1.
And it was not long before Howard (60) was able to put away his second and make it 3-1 with a clinical left-foot finish.
Sunderland also pressed their promotion claims with a 2-0 victory over struggling Hull that lifted them into second place.
Roy Keane's men, now unbeaten in 12 games, took a lead after just three minutes when Jonathan Evans, on loan from Manchester United, headed the ball in at the far post from a free-kick.
David Connolly should have made it 2-0 in the second half and yet somehow managed to miss the target, but Stern John eventually secured all three points when he buried the ball into the right-hand side of the net in the 90th minute.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the table, Leeds shared the points with relegation rivals Southend when they headed down to Roots Hall.
Leeds could have taken an early lead when Tresor Kandol somehow missed a gilt-edged chance from six yards out following a Frazer Richardson cross.
But it was Southend who took the lead through Mark Gower (24) after poor defending allowed him the space and time to drill the ball beyond Kaspar Ankergren.
Striker Freddy Eastwood nearly made it 2-0 at the beginning of the second half when a good piece of skill allowed him to take a shot, which hit a defender's foot before just missing the goal.
Leeds came back into it, however, and could easily have levelled on numerous occasions. And David Healy (88) handed Leeds a late equaliser with a fierce strike to keep Dennis Wise's side's hopes of safety alive.
Sheffield Wednesday were within seconds of taking all three points against Wolves at Hillsborough, but had to settle for a 2-2 draw.
In an open game, both sides had early chances, but it was Deon Burton (22) who made the breakthrough to give Wednesday a lead after good work from Frank Simek down the right-hand side.
However, the visitors were able to get back into it when Michael McIndoe (35) claimed his first goal for the club with a header following good work from Stephen Ward.
But Steven MacLean (47) restored Wednesday's lead just after the restart with a shot into the bottom right corner of the goal from outside the area.
Defender Simek caused Wednesday problems, however, when he was sent off for a rash tackle on McIndoe with 10 minutes left to play.
And Andrew Keogh (90) took advantage to give Wolves a point when he produced a superb piece of skill followed by a half-volley that flew beyond Wednesday keeper Iain Turner.
Having sacked Mike Newell midweek, Luton were hoping to end their five-match losing streak as Brian Stein took charge for his first game as caretaker manager.
However, they went down to a 2-0 home defeat and had to endure 'sack the board' chants from the fans.
Both Luton and Ipswich were forced to play a scrappy football as the Kenilworth Road pitch prevented either side enjoying any flowing moves.
Luton did nearly take the lead, with centre-back Clarke Carlisle unfortunate not to open the scoring for Luton after his piledriver was tipped over the bar, but it was Ipswich who went ahead when Owen Garven's overhead kick struck the crossbar and Alan Lee (39) was able to tuck away the rebound.
And Matthew Richards (62) made it 2-0 with a shot from the six-yard box, giving the home side no way back into the match.
Coventry extended their unbeaten run to six games when they claimed a 4-1 victory against struggling Barnsley at The Ricoh Arena.
Coventry opened the scoring when Jay Tabb took advantage of a long free-kick into the box to steer the ball into Nick Colgan's goal from the edge of the area.
And Malta international Michael Mifsud, who had earlier struck both posts, was able to get his name on the scoresheet with a simple tap-in on 32 minutes.
Things got worse for Simon Davey's Barnsley side when Dele Adebola (38) was able to sidefoot the ball home from just six yards to make it 3-0, before adding a second (49) after shrugging off the attentions of the Barnsley defence.
Barnsley pulled one back through Robert Hassell (79), but it was too little too late for The Tykes.
Norwich followed their victory over Birmingham with another good win at home to Stoke.
The Canaries scored the only goal of the game through Darren Huckerby, who was able to fire home from 18 yards after a neat back-heel from Chris Martin.
Despite Stoke's efforts to get themselves back into contention, Andy Griffin was dismissed in the 83rd minute for serious foul play, rounding off a miserable day for the visitors.
QPR secured a surprise 3-1 win over Leicester to move out of the relegation zone.
John Gregory must have given an inspiring team-talk as his team emerged for the second-half in fine form, and they took the lead almost immediately through an Inigo Idiakez header (47).
Before long, Marc Nygaard (51) had added a second from the penalty spot after a Shaun Newton foul in the area, giving the Dane his first goal since October.
And in the 68th minute, Nygaard scored what could be the club's goal of the season when he volleyed the ball over Paul Henderson in the Leicester goal from the touchline.
In the 93rd minute, Leicester scored a consolation goal from the penalty spot through Iain Hume.
Plymouth all but ended Crystal Palace's play-off hopes when they won 1-0 at Home Park.
Scott Sinclair (48), on loan from Chelsea, scored a sublime solo effort to put Plymouth in front. After a darting run that saw him beat two men, he was able to put the ball into the top-right of the goal.
And earlier in the day, high-flying Preston beat Burnley 2-0 at Deepdale thanks to goals from David Nugent (33) and Patrick Agyemang (75), leaving the visitors without a win in 18 attempts.
Click below for an individual match summary:
Coventry 4-1 Barnsley
Derby 3-1 Cardiff City
Leicester 1-3 QPR
Luton Town 0-2 Ipswich
Norwich 1-0 Stoke City
Plymouth 1-0 Crystal Palace
Preston NE 2-0 Burnley
Sheff Wed 2-2 Wolves
Southend 1-1 Leeds Utd
Sunderland 2-0 Hull City