Portsmouth’s promotion rivals up the pace – Sunderland hitting top gear and Barnsley produce one of their best displays
Sunderland manager Jack Ross praised his team for their recent good form after the 2-0 home win against Plymouth with Luton, Barnsley and Pompey all impressing as well in League One.
The top four teams earned wins as they showed why they are in the quest for the Championship.
Sunderland remain third and they kept themselves in the position thanks to a 2-0 home win over Plymouth, with goals in each half from Lee Cattermole and George Honeyman.
Ross has been happy with the way his team have stepped up recently.
He told the Sunderland Echo: ‘We played well, I have been pleased with us for five or six games, our performance level has been good.
‘First half we were very good, the only frustration was that we weren’t further ahead at half-time.
‘The other pleasing time was we were resilient second half, we looked compact and comfortable.
‘We always believe we will create opportunities.
‘It was a satisfying afternoon for us.’
Barnsley made it 15 games unbeaten and manager Daniel Stendel felt they produced one of their best displays of the season in the 3-0 success at Southend.
The Tykes were reduced to 10 men when Jacob Brown was sent off 10 minutes before the break for a poor challenge on Shrimpers skipper Sam Mantom.
But they still earned a dominant win with second-half goals from Cameron McGeehan, Cauley Woodrow and Jordan Green.
Stendel told the Basildon, Canvey and Southend Echo: ‘It was one of the best performances of the season but I think we’ve played well in a lot of our games.
‘We’ve shown here to a lot of people watching how we can play and it was a good win.
‘At half-time I said we could win the game but in the second half it was more important to play with heart.
‘I’m so proud of the performance and in the end it was a deserved win.
‘We worked very hard and we work hard in between the games too.’
Barnsley hold a five-point advantage over fourth-placed Pompey after Kenny Jackett’s men thrashed Bradford 5-1.
It’s close in the race for the second automatic place.
Third-placed Sunderland are two points back from Barnsley with a game in hand.
Luton kept their title charge going at the top with a 2-0 home win over Rochdale, who finished with 10 men.
Danny Hylton broke the deadlock with a close-range finish after 59 minutes.
Rochdale saw midfielder Ethan Hamilton dismissed for a second caution with five minutes left, and James Collins added a second for the Hatters in stoppage time.
Play-off challengers Doncaster and Charlton drew 1-1 at the Keepmoat Stadium.
The Addicks, with boss Lee Bowyer starting a three-match touchline ban, went in front after 72 minutes when John Marquis headed into his own net from a corner.
Mallik Wilks had equalised within five minutes, though, and Rovers later saw a stoppage-time effort from Marquis disallowed for offside.
Peterborough moved level with sixth-placed Rovers on 55 points after beating Wycombe 4-2.
Matt Godden struck twice inside the opening 10 minutes to put Posh in control, before an own goal from defender Ryan Tafazolli reduced the deficit.
Marcus Maddison made it 3-1 after 31 minutes, but Matt Bloomfield pulled another one back for Wycombe before the break.
Maddison’s second after 66 minutes settled matters.
Relegation-battlers Bristol Rovers boosted their survival hopes with a 4-0 win over Blackpool with a hat-trick from Jonson Clarke-Harris at the Memorial Stadium.
The January deadline day signing was on target after only six minutes and doubled Rovers lead shortly before half-time.
Clarke-Harris completed his treble in the 68th minute when he knocked home a rebound and Liam Sercombe scored a fourth for the hosts in stoppage time.
Fellow strugglers Oxford made it two wins from two as they beat Scunthorpe 2-1 at home.
Jerome Sinclair scored twice in the second half, with George Thomas grabbing a stoppage-time consolation for the visitors.
Coventry won 1-0 at Accrington Stanley thanks to Bright Enobakhare’s second-half effort.
Burton drew 0-0 at home against Walsall, while it was also goalless between Shrewsbury and bottom club AFC Wimbledon.
James Husband scored a free-kick in stoppage time to salvage a 1-1 draw for Fleetwood against Gillingham, who had taken the lead through Tom Eaves with just seven minutes left.