Five talking points from EFL Boxing Day, including Huddersfield’s play-off challenge

From Huddersfield and Middlesbrough to Shrewsbury and Mansfield, our EFL pundit Gab Sutton has his say on Boxing Day’s action

Huddersfield enter the top six

A late Sorba Thomas brace saw Huddersfield move back into the Championship play-off places as the Terries won 3-2 over 10-man Blackpool.

Head coach Carlos Corberan showed his tactical adaptability by replacing key centre-back Tom Lees with right-back Oli Turton, to facilitate a switch from 3-4-3 to 4-2-3-1.

This had the effect of pushing Thomas from right wing-back to the right wing, where he was freed up to cut inside and dovetail with the likes of Danel Sinani and Danny Ward.

The latter was arguably man-of-the-match, scoring a powerful header in the first half in a vibrant individual display.

Play-off scramble hotting up

Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture date: Sunday December 26, 2021.

Huddersfield were not the only team to enter the top six on Boxing Day: Middlesbrough did likewise, after a 2-0 victory over play-off rivals Nottingham Forest.

The Terriers and the Teesiders are only fifth and sixth respectively, with Forest being the only top half side below them who do not have two or three games in hand on both, so the situation could change very quickly.

Nonetheless, Boro look resurgent under Wilder and the performances of reliable figures like Anfernee Dijksteel and Jonny Howson has given the more eye-catching operators like Isaiah Jones and Duncan Watmore the platform to do damage.

Coleman and Bell celebrate in style

Rotherham United's Chiedozie Ogbene (left) and Accrington Stanley's Ethan Hamilton battle for the ball during the Sky Bet League One match at the Wham Stadium, Accrington. Picture date: Sunday December 26, 2021.

John Coleman and Jimmy Bell have enjoyed a combined 20 years in charge of Accrington Stanley, across two spells.

The managerial duo celebrated their anniversary in apt fashion, backed by a buoyant Clayton End, who helped the Reds on to a 1-0 victory over leaders Rotherham.

After a shambolic 4-0 defeat at Burton a month ago, the East Lancashire outfit looked vulnerable to plummeting into trouble, but Coleman and Bell have since made a few crucial tweaks, restored balance to the side, and overseen four wins in five.

Play-offs, anyone?

Daniel Ud-oh wow!

Shrewsbury Town's Daniel Udoh and Portsmouth's Jack Whatmough battle for the ball during the Sky Bet League One match at the Montgomery Waters Meadow, Shrewsbury. Picture date: Saturday March 27, 2021.

Shrewsbury boss Steve Cotterill's decision to hand Daniel Udoh a new contract in the summer, rather than release the striker, was not a straightforward one.

The former Telford frontman had scored a mere four league goals in each of his first two seasons with the Shrews, and perhaps a more temperamental or enigmatic 25-year-old with his record would have been forced to rebuild their career at a lower level.

Instead, Cotterill gave Udoh the opportunity to grow - one he has grabbed with both hands, scoring six goals in his last seven league games, including a thunderous, left-footed strike that went in off the crossbar to round off a 3-0 triumph at Fleetwood last time out.

Clough has O'Toole do the job

Mansfield Town manager Nigel Clough during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Barrow and Mansfield Town at the Holker Street, Barrow-in-Furness on Saturday 6th March 2021

Mansfield manager Nigel Clough tends to deploy midfielder John-Joe O'Toole as a centre-back, having done so in his time at Burton as well in his current job.

For Boxing Day's 3-2 victory over Hartlepool though, Clough moved O'Toole back to the base of midfield, with Farren Rawson partnering Oli Hawkins in defence.

O'Toole deservedly won the man-of-the-match accolade, running the show at the base of midfield, as the Stags came back from two down to secure three points that - with many around them out of action - leaves them just one point off the play-offs.

Mansfield might have been late starters, but having picked up more points after October 29 than any other side, they should be treated as serious contenders.

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