hernandez norwich
AFP PHOTO

A goal by Onel Hernandez gave Norwich a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough and took them a step closer to the Premier League on Saturday, opening up a seven-point gap to third-placed Sheffield United.

The Cuban-born German winger struck in the 54th minute, denting Middlesbrough’s hopes of returning to the play-off places.

The Canaries’ seventh successive victory sees them move five points clear of Leeds — who occupy the second and last automatic promotion spot.

“Seven points ahead (of third place) is a good situation at this point of the season,” Norwich captain Christoph Zimmermann told Sky Sports.

“We know there are seven games to go so there are plenty of points to get, but we’ll take it game by game and fight like we’ve done all season.”

Leeds, bidding to return to the Premier League after a 15-year hiatus, hold a two-point advantage over Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United after both were involved in five-goal thrillers.

Leeds twice came back from behind against struggling Millwall to win 3-2, but Sheffield United let slip the lead on two occasions to lose 3-2 to play-off chasing Bristol City.

– ‘Hurt the opponent’ –

Leeds’ veteran Spanish playmaker Pablo Hernandez grabbed a fine double to take his tally for the season to 12, the second sealing the points seven minutes from time.

AFP / Lindsey PARNABY Leeds United’s playmaker Pablo Hernandez’s double in a 3-2 win over Millwall moves them tantalisingly close to a return to the Premier League after a 15 year hiatus

At exactly the same point of the match, Sheffield United went behind for the first time, Austrian international Andreas Weimann completing the first hat-trick of his career to seal victory for City.

Millwall’s Ben Marshall had twice given the visitors the lead at a raucous Elland Road — the second from the penalty spot.

Leeds had missed a spot-kick of their own in the first half when Patrick Bamford had his effort saved by David Martin, redeeming himself after his howler a fortnight ago cost Millwall a place in the FA Cup semi-finals.

However, Hernandez first brought it back to 1-1, finishing off a fine passing move which began in the hosts’ penalty area.

Luke Ayling made it 2-2 before 33-year-old Hernandez brought the near-35,000 crowd to their feet as he slotted home Tyler Roberts’s cutback.

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa lauded Hernandez, who won four caps for his country a decade ago while at Valencia.

“Pablo is a leader,” said Bielsa. “He lifts the team and the fans too. He is someone who gives us the feeling we can hurt the opponent all the time.”

Weimann proved to be Sheffield United’s nemesis despite never being the most prolific of scorers in nine years in English football.

Even more surprising was the generosity of the United defence as they had not conceded a goal in their previous seven matches.

The home side’s evergreen striker Billy Sharp had given them an early lead with his 24th of the season, and when half-time substitute Scott Hogan restored their one-goal advantage in the second half, it looked as if they would stay in second spot.

However, Weimann had other ideas and scored twice in six minutes to stun United and secure an invaluable three points for his side’s bid to make the play-offs.