It’s normally at about this time of year that you hear managers, players, pundits and journalists declaring that we’ll soon be entering ‘the business end of the season’.
Nobody can be totally sure when ‘the business end of the season’ actually starts or, indeed, what the phrase really means.
But if ever there was a ‘business-end-of-the-season’ kind of fixture it was on Saturday, as Bramall Lane played host to the first top-two meeting of the season in any English Football League division.
The League One promotion battle between Sheffield United and Scunthorpe United joins managerial milestones and another miserable trip to Grimsby among five things you may have missed from the EFL.
Oh, I don’t like to be beside the seaside
Every player and manager will have grounds they do particularly well at – and, perhaps, grounds they don’t do particularly well at.
It would probably be fair to say Blundell Park would fall into the latter of those two categories for Steve Evans, whose Mansfield Town side endured a miserable afternoon against Grimsby Town.
The Stags were already 2-0 down when the 54-year-old was sent to the stands by the fourth official, prompting a spiky reception from the home fans with whom he had to sit.
After his side had conceded a third and final goal, Evans scarpered down to the changing rooms to “take myself away from the situation”.
In 2006, the Scot was ejected from the ground altogether after protesting against a refereeing decision that had gone against his Boston United team.
“I asked the fourth official if he could ask the referee a question during the game and he said he wasn’t prepared to do that,” Evans told BBC Radio Nottingham after Saturday’s loss in League Two. “So I said ‘I’ll phone your boss on Monday and see if he’s prepared to answer it’.
“That’s the language I used and he said ‘I’m not being threatened, you’re going up’.”
Managerial milestones and debuts
At a time when the lifespan of a football manager would appear to be at an all-time low, two bosses in the Championship celebrated notable milestones on Saturday.
Chris Hughton marked his 100th league game in charge of Brighton & Hove Albion with a victory that moved the Seagulls to the top of the Championship table, leapfrogging Newcastle United.
Their 2-0 win over Barnsley, courtesy of Sam Baldock’s brace, was also Hughton’s 50th in the league – which, for the mathematicians among you, gives him a satisfyingly-precise 50% win ratio.
Preston North End celebrated Simon Grayson’s fourth anniversary at the helm by providing face masks for all Lilywhites fans who made the short trip to Wigan Athletic.
The sight of 4,700+ Simon Graysons failed to inspire North End to victory, however, with Jordan Hugill’s missed penalty proving crucial in a goalless draw, the 21st 0-0 of Grayson’s reign.
At the other end of the scale, a couple of managers elsewhere in the EFL were overseeing their new sides for the first time – Lee Clark at Bury and Kevin Nugent at Barnet.
Warnock’s Bluebirds flying
Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman told BBC Radio Wales on Saturday that manager Neil Warnock has “brought joy back to the club” and that he is a “massive fan” of the 68-year-old.
And it’s easy to see why, with the Bluebirds’ devastating 5-0 win over bottom side Rotherham United taking their tally of points since 1 January to 21, more than any other club in the Championship.
Cardiff were 23rd when Warnock took over, but are now 12th and closer to the play-off positions than they are the relegation places.
Their win over the Millers, one of Warnock’s former clubs, was inspired in part by the arrival of Junior Hoilett, who scored three minutes after coming on as a first-half substitute for the injured Rhys Healey.
Craig Noone and Kenneth Zohore added further goals after half-time to complete the rout, though Warnock did spare a thought for his former employers after the match.
“I’ve been there and I know how difficult it can be,” he said. “I do wish Rotherham well.”
Too early for a title decider?
It may only be mid-February, but Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder certainly wasn’t rushing to play down his side’s match against League One promotion rivals Scunthorpe United, declaring the fixture as a “big game” and more than “just another three points”.
And more than 27,000 supporters turned out at Bramall Lane, making it the best-attended league game to take place in England on Saturday.
The contest itself will likely be remembered for a crazy four minutes early in the second half.
After a relatively uneventful opening 45 minutes, the match exploded into life when Paddy Madden fired the Iron ahead, only for Billy Sharp to equalise against his ex-club within 180 seconds.
There was more drama two minutes later when Scunthorpe’s Harry Toffolo was shown a second yellow card, but the Blades were unable to find a winner and remain five points clear of Scunthorpe.
“We’ve got 14 games left to finish the job we’ve done so well so far,” Scunthorpe manager Graham Alexander told BBC Radio Humberside after the 1-1 draw. “We don’t want to let it go to waste.”
Coventry rediscover the winning touch
While two League One high-flyers well used to winning failed to do so on Saturday, a team at the other end of the division did manage to do just that for the first time since last year.
Although Coventry City have enjoyed an EFL Trophy run that has taken them to a Wembley final, before Saturday they were rooted to the bottom of the table and without a league triumph since 1 November.
But that miserable 15-game winless run came to an end with a 2-1 victory over Gillingham, inspired by goals from Kwame Thomas and George Thomas.
“The fans were terrific – it’s been testing times for them,” Sky Blues boss Russell Slade told BBC Coventry & Warwickshire. “I’m pleased we’ve got three points, but we need to go and do it again next Saturday.”