By Martyn Herman
LONDON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Sheffield United thumped last season's promotion playoff runners-up Aston Villa 4-1 to move up to third in the English Championship on Saturday while Derby County and Brentford continued their impressive starts to the season.
First-half goals by Jack O'Connell, Mark Duffy and Oliver Norwood set United on course for the victory and Villa's afternoon went from bad to worse after the break when Billy Sharp made it 4-0 to leave the vistiors in 12th place.
Anwar El Ghazi's strike just past the hour mark was scant consolation for Villa manager Steve Bruce whose side were a win away from rejoining the top flight last season but have started the new second tier campaign inconsistently.
"From back to front we were awful in a lot of aspects, but I've mentioned it far too many times, it's arguably the worst one I've faced, but that's the way it is," Bruce said.
"We can talk about tactics and 'you don't know what you're doing' and 'dinosaurs are going to come out', but at the end of the day we didn't put our boots on."
Derby's Florian Jozefzoon grabbed a late goal to earn a 2-1 win at Hull City, who have lost four consecutive home games in all competitions this season, as they moved into fourth place.
Pacesetters Leeds United and Middlesbrough drew 0-0 at Elland Road on Friday to leave them level at the top on 14 points ahead of Sheffield United and Derby County with 12.
Promotion tips Nottingham Forest saw their unbeaten start to the season end in a 2-1 loss at Brentford who are fifth on 11 points with Swansea City, 2-1 winners at Millwall, and Bolton Wanderers after they drew 2-2 away to Preston North End.
Forest are 14th with seven points after four draws from six games and manager Aitor Karanka said they need more consistency.
"Especially in the first half they (Brentford) were much better than us and although we played much better in the second half, it wasn't enough," Karanka said.
Sunday sees an East Anglia derby between struggling Norwich City and bottom side Ipswich Town. (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)