EFL: Delivering cards early and a pitch fit for Santa among five things you may have missed

By Michael BeardmoreBBC Sport
Notts County Santa fan
Santa was in the stands to watch Notts County's first win under Neal Ardley

It's just 10 days before the big man climbs down our chimneys and rewards those who have been good with a bounty of gifts - and football has been getting in the festive spirit too.

One referee was delivering his cards extra-early and a League Two game was actually played with two Christmas trees on the pitch, baubles, stars and all. Sort of.

Several new managers - including a famous England star - tore off the wrapping of welcome first wins, while one boss who has had the sack more times than Santa in recent years continued his road to redemption.

It's been a chilly and crazy day in the EFL so sit back with a warming hot chocolate and catch up with some of the seasonal silliness you might have missed out on...

Get those cards dished out early

Naby Sarr.
Charlton's Naby Sarr was sent off after just 48 seconds against AFC Wimbledon

Now, we all know to allow plenty of time in posting our cards to loved ones at this time of year, but referee Trevor Kettle took that early delivery advice to extremes at the Valley.

Less than a minute - 48 seconds to be precise - had elapsed when Kettle issued a straight red card to Charlton's Naby Sarr for a late challenge on AFC Wimbledon's Tennai Watson.

The person running Charlton's Twitter account was nearly going postal, insisting Kettle's decision was anything but first-class.

Charlton tweet.
Charlton's Twitter account clearly did not agree with the early dismissal...

However, the official continued to put his stamp on proceedings by evening things up as Wimbledon's Mitch Pinnock was sent off just after the half-hour for a second bookable offence for diving.

Second-half goals from Lyle Taylor and Mark Marshall ultimately gave the promotion-chasing Addicks a 2-0 win over the struggling Dons but it is fair to presume Mr Kettle will be on neither League One side's Christmas card list.

Sarr's dismissal was Charlton's fastest-ever red card but is not even close to the EFL's quickest sending-off - Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Kevin Pressman saw red after just 13 seconds for handling outside his area against Wolves in 2000.

Even more impressively (or not) was Keith Gillespie's dismissal 12 seconds after coming on as a Sheffield United substitute against Reading in 2007 - a game in which Royals coach Wally Downes, now Wimbledon boss, also saw red...

Unwrapping welcome first wins

While Downes awaits his maiden victory as Dons manager, several other recently-appointed bosses ended Saturday as happy as a kid on Christmas morning.

Macclesfield and Notts County remain in the Football League's bottom two positions but respective managers Sol Campbell and Neal Ardley saw their Christmases come early with three vital points apiece.

Campbell's Silkmen weathered a half-time floodlight failure as their survival hopes flickered back into life with a 2-0 win over Crawley, while Ardley - County's third manager of the season - broke his duck at the fourth attempt with a 3-2 victory over Tranmere.

Sol Campbell.
Sol Campbell was all smiles after picking up his first managerial three points as Macclesfield beat Crawley 2-0

Neither side will truly enjoy Christmas if they cannot climb out of the bottom two though - especially as they meet at Meadow Lane in a potential relegation six-pointer on Boxing Day.

If that duo were relieved, imagine how Ipswich boss Paul Lambert felt after the Tractor Boys' 1-0 win over Wigan, having taken just two points from a possible 18 in his first six games in charge.

It was certainly a day for the basement sides as Bradford made it three for three across the EFL divisions by thumping Walsall 4-0 to move off the foot of the League One table.

Return of the Mac

QPR celebrate.
Nahki Wells (left) celebrates his winner for QPR with teammates Luke Freeman and Pawel Wszolek

If we're looking for a Christmas miracle, then Steve McClaren's road to redemption these last few weeks is a decent place to start.

After being sacked three times since 2015 - twice by Derby, once by Newcastle - it is fair to say the former England manager was not exactly welcomed with open arms by Queens Park Rangers fans when he was appointed in the summer.

Four straight league defeats to open the season - including a 7-1 thrashing at West Bromwich Albion - heaped the pressure on the 57-year-old but the Hoops kept faith.

Since then, McClaren has led Rangers well clear of trouble with nine wins in their last 17 league games and they continued that fine run by seeing off his old side Middlesbrough on Saturday.

QPR are only five points off the Championship play-offs and while that may be a miracle too far, they are 12 points clear of the bottom three.

Winter's here folks

Ah, the old supermarket small-talk staple: "Winter's here now, ay it love?" smiles the cashier as you nod in agreement while handing over your money, shivering despite wearing multiple layers.

And while the Football League programme has mostly escaped Mother Nature's clutches so far this season, Saturday was an indication that things could well be about to change in that respect.

Milton Keynes Dons were knocked off the top of League Two, unable to match title rivals Lincoln's win over Morecambe due to a waterlogged pitch at hosts Newport County.

Rodney Parade, Newport.
Unsurprisingly, a boggy Rodney Parade did not survive a pre-match pitch inspection

That was not the only fourth-tier match to fall victim to the elements as officials abandoned Forest Green Rovers' home game against Mansfield Town at half-time due to surface water.

Conditions were a challenge at most grounds up and down the country with Blackpool manager Terry McPhillips describing them as "atrocious" during their 2-0 League One defeat at Oxford United.

"Obviously we lose the game, don't score and then to cap it all off the showers are cold," he told BBC Radio Lancashire. 

"Hopefully none of the lads have got pneumonia - we'll dust them down and assess them all."

Could this be the beginning of a host of postponements as the 'Big Freeze' closes in? Perhaps, although conditions at another League Two ground were far easier on the eye...

Groundsman's tree-mendous idea

Cambridge United Christmas tree pitch decoration.
Cambridge United's groundsman Ian Darler was certainly in a baubly mood ahead of Saturday's League Two game against Yeovil...

Take a bow Cambridge groundsman Ian Darler, who apparently spent weeks dreaming up this festive pitch design for his club's final League Two fixture before Christmas.

Two symmetrical Christmas trees adorned the Abbey Stadium pitch either side of the centre circle as the U's welcomed Yeovil for a key game towards the foot of the Football League.

Managerless Cambridge were maybe hoping Darler's creation would spruce up the lowly's U's and inspire a few star performances from their players.

Unfortunately, neither of the teams on show displayed much in the way of the seasonal spirit as they fought out a drab goalless draw that would have made Scrooge or the Grinch proud.

Perhaps if either manager had employed a more attacking formation - you know, that one famously employed by Terry Venables as England boss, perhaps - the game might have yielded more goals.

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