CHRISTMAS time, mistletoe and wine. That may be how Sir Cliff Richard spends his festive season, but for Yorkshire’s football fans there are much more important matters to attend to, namely, the need to snaffle up crucial league points over the holiday period.
In the Premier League, Hull City are about to enter perhaps their most daunting run of games as Steve Bruce’s men prepare to take on champions Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea in the next four league games.
Only Fulham, this Saturday at the KC Stadium, offer a respite from that trio of big guns and arguably that fixture could be the most important of the lot considering the London club’s precarious position in the table.
Hoping to join the Tigers in next season’s top flight are Leeds United, Yorkshire’s highest-placed side in the Football League after the derby draw with Barnsley left the Elland Road outfit sitting fifth in the table.
Unfortunately, Leeds are the only one of the county’s six teams in the second tier who will go into Christmas sitting in the top half of the table. Huddersfield, though, are as good as, with Mark Robins’s side 13th after a decent start to the campaign.
Middlesbrough, too, did their own position the power of good last Saturday with their 2-0 win at Millwall lifting the Teesside club up to 17th. More importantly, Aitor Karanka’s men have a six-point advantage over the bottom three – a decent foundation from which to pull themselves away from trouble, starting with the visit of leaders Burnley on Boxing Day.
As for the remaining trio of White Rose sides in the Championship, the picture is bleak with both Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday having spent much of the season in the relegation zone. Doncaster Rovers may be able to boast how they are yet to have been in the bottom three, but there can be little doubt that Paul Dickov’s men have a big fight on to maintain that record.
Into League One and Rotherham United have been Yorkshire’s outstanding side. They look a good bet for a second successive promotion, though those credentials are likely to be tested on Boxing Day with the visit to rivals Bradford City. The Bantams are also harbouring hopes of a second tilt at the play-offs, despite winning just one of their last 11 league outings.
At the other end of the table, Sheffield United’s target is merely to continue the recent improvement under Nigel Clough while York City’s new year will also be all about staying clear of trouble in League Two.
Here, Richard Sutcliffe and Leon Wobschall get the mid-term verdict of supporters from all 11 of Yorkshire’s Premier and Football League clubs.
Gareth Richardson, Beverley
Currently 12th in the Premier League table
Verdict: At the start of the season, I would have snapped anyone’s hand off if they had offered us this position at Christmas. A lot of the pundits wrote us off in the summer, saying we would struggle badly back in the Premier League. But we have done well and made those pundits eat their words. The signings made by manager Steve Bruce last summer have proved to be good ones and the results have followed. Tom Huddlestone has been the standout signing, but Allan McGregor and Curtis Davies have run him close. I still believe, though, that we are in a relegation fight. In a division like this, there is always a chance of losing a run of consecutive games – and three of our next four are against Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea. They do not come much tougher than that and it puts a real emphasis on the Fulham home game this Saturday.
Best player: Tom Huddlestone. A real quality addition to the team and someone who has made a real difference.
Biggest disappointment (player): Robbie Brady, of late. He started the season really well, but is struggling now.
Best moment: Sone Aluko’s winner at Newcastle in our 3-1 win in September.
Lowest moment: Losing at home to Crystal Palace.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: Our home form is why we are doing well at the moment.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: Get a striker in – though I realise that is easier said than done, as everyone wants one of those in January.
Advice to manager: Keep doing what you are doing as it is working.
Target for new year: Simple – stay in the Premier League.
Predicted finish: 17th.
Paul Taylor, Leeds
Currently fifth in the Championship table
Verdict: The feel-good factor surrounding everything to do with Leeds continues to gather momentum, and this is being reproduced on the pitch. It seems that everyone at the club is finally pulling in the same direction. Christmas looks to be very much the key period that it was three years ago, when Simon Grayson’s exciting team just needed a couple of signings to go all the way. Will Max Gradel or someone else of his ilk be the catalyst for a serious promotion push? Only time will tell. This is Leeds United, after all.
Best player: Ross McCormack. An absolute quality striker who we must keep in January.
Biggest disappointment (player): Sam Byram. His injury setback has hindered his progress, but I still have high hopes.
Best moment: Ross’s fourth goal in the 4-2 win at Charlton. A sublime end to a great day out. The atmosphere was tremendous.
Lowest moment: The performance in losing at Huddersfield was perhaps the worst of the season.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: We are starting to look like a really organised team that is capable of grinding out wins when not playing particularly well.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: Provide the finances to support Brian McDermott’s undoubted talent.
Advice to manager: Carry on.
Target for new year: Top two.
Predicted finish: Top six.
Paul Gallagher, Pogmoor
Currently 24th in the Championship table
Verdict: We’ve under-achieved spectacularly this season after an amazing end to last season. I’m not sure what happened, but David Flitcroft was unable to recreate that seige mentality that saw us escape relegation last term. We have been truly dreadful and the BFC board rightly ended Flicker’s tenure as manager. Last week the club appointed Danny Wilson to take us forward which has been a very popular appointment among all but the most bitter Barnsley fans. He really has his work cut out and keeping us up this season might be a bigger achievement than getting us to the Premier League all those years ago. Good luck, Danny.
Best player: Chris O’Grady has been the most consistent of our players, but has been injured recently.
Biggest disappointment (player): Dale Jennings who came from Bayern Munich with the promise of potential. He got sent off within five minutes of his debut and we haven’t really seen him since.
Best moment: Hearing Danny Wilson had been appointed manager.
Lowest moment: Doncaster at home. Two terrible, terrible teams playing terrible football.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: Bad recruitment decisions. Flitcroft being unable to recreate the battling, pressing football of last season.
What needs to be done in the January transfer window: We need to supplement the squad with some Championship quality, a left-back and a Redfearnesque midfielder to start with.
Advice to manager: Good luck, Danny – you will need it.
Target for new year: New manager getting the very best out of players and the board finding some funds for new faces.
Predicted finish: In the bottom three, I fear.
Jamie White, Leeds
Currently 13th in the Championship table
Verdict: I’d say this season has seen us neither over-achieve nor under-achieve. Most fans at the start of the season expected us to be a mid-table team and that is what we are proving to be. Our recent form hasn’t been great in terms of results. However, the performances have certainly been of a very good standard.
Best player: I said in pre-season back in August that Joel Lynch would be our most important player and he is proving me correct. We have tightened up our defence and Lynch has been a central part in that improvement.
Biggest disappointment (player): It is hard to say. I think everyone has had their on and off moments. Sean Scannell continues to be very frustrating with his inconsistency. I think he could be a really big player for us if he delivered more regularly.
Best moment: Has to be the 3-2 home win against Leeds United.
Lowest moment: The 3-1 home defeat to Birmingham; that was an awful performance.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: Mark Robins has stuck to his principles and had us playing good football on a consistent basis, and the results are starting to show.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: We need to bring in a goalscorer. James Vaughan has started really well, but I still don’t see him as the sort of classic No 9 that every team needs.
Advice to manager: Keep going. The football has been good, it has been entertaining the fans and has also helped the club progress.
Target for new year: Staying consistent. We had an awful run over January last year which saw us drop like a stone. If we avoid something similar this time then we will be fine.
Predicted finish: 12th.
Andrew Gilbey, Hillsborough
Currently 22nd in the Championship table
Verdict: Anything but relegation this season will be a bonus. Got to admit I expected this after the summer’s recruitment of players. Apart from loan players, we have had one striker in Atdhe Nuhiu all season. How can any club expect success with just one striker? Crazy. In fairness, not been helped by horrendous injury list in defence and midfield.
Best player: Connor Wickham. Would be bottom of the table without his goals.
Biggest disappointment (player): Martin Taylor. Good record pre-Owls but has never performed to his best with us.
Best moment: The 5-2 demolition of Reading at Hillsborough. Actually played two decent strikers in Wickham and Matty Fryatt and proved what we can do.
Lowest moment: Too many to mention, but 4-1 at Birmingham City was tough to stomach.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: After last season’s struggles, more investment was needed in team. Dave Jones had to go, though; things didn’t seem to be improving from last time.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: Sign four strikers. Realistically? Bring in two until the end of the season.
Advice to manager: I would offer some if we had one. Shame it wasn’t Neil Warnock. Whoever it is, hope you deliver some firepower to side.
Target for new year: Stay up, as simple as that.
Predicted finish: 20th.
Graeme Bandeira, Harrogate
Currently 17th in the Championship table
Verdict: Boro’s fortunes rest on what happens in the January transfer window. The team desperately require some experienced campaigners, who are not afraid to be vocal and put their head in where it hurts. We lack leadership and cannot see games out from winning positions. Boro need to learn how to win ugly.
Best player: Albert Adomah.
Biggest disappointment (player): Grant Leadbitter. Not the leader I thought he could be.
Best moment: Equalising at Elland Road when we were down to 10 men.
Lowest moment: Conceding not long after equalising at Elland Road.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: Conceding late goals, particularly from set-plays.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: We need some real leaders in the team.
Advice to manager: Assemble a whole new defence.
Target for new year: Stop conceding easily avoidable goals.
Predicted finish: 16th.
Stephen Waddington, Doncaster
Currently 20th in the Championship table
Verdict: The Rovers’ rollercoaster ride continues. Mr Doncaster, John Ryan, has sadly gone, and the board need to finance Paul Dickov’s fight to stay in the Championship. With an injury ravaged, paper-thin squad, we have surprised many with some notable scalps. Much will depend on Dickov’s good use of the loan market.
Best player: Richie Wellens. Still as majestic as ever.
Biggest disappointment (player): James Coppinger.
Best moment: Last-minute winner against high-flying QPR.
Lowest moment: The 4-0 defeat at Middlesbrough... awful.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: Right, high tempo pressing game; wrong, injuries to a small squad.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: New commanding centre-half.
Advice to manager: Go get a quality Premier League striker not getting a game.
Target for new year: Winning against the other bottom sides.
Predicted finish: 18th.
Jim Blackburn, Millhouses
Currently 19th in the League One table
Verdict: David Weir left a bit of a mess behind him – a team bereft of confidence and slipping into League Two. His Barcelona blueprint was all too much for our assortment of journeymen, youngsters and supposed flair players. With Nigel Clough, we should be free of the relegation threat soon.
Best player: No obvious candidate.
Biggest disappointment (player): Florent Cuvelier.
Best moment: David Weir being put out of his misery.
Lowest moment: Managing one shot on target at Carlisle. In the ‘96th’ minute.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: The Weir appointment was a huge mistake, with hindsight.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: Signing a striker, a central midfielder and a partner for Harry Maguire.
Advice to manager: More of the same.
Target for new year: A settled side.
Predicted finish: 12th.
Mike Harrison, Editor, The City Gent
Currently 9th in the League One table
Verdict: 2013 has truly been a special year, some will even say historic. City are still handily placed just outside the play-off positions despite the recent run of too many draws and not enough wins.
Best player: For sheer consistency, Stephen Darby.
Biggest disappointment (player): I really feel for Andrew Davies having to miss a chunk of the season through injury.
Best moment: Rory McArdle’s equaliser in a real thriller at Preston.
Lowest moment: Being well and truly spanked (again) at Rotherham in the FA Cup.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: Keeping a settled side helped early on, but injuries to Wells and Davies have hit us.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: Keep Nahki Wells.
Advice to manager: Continue what you are doing.
Target for new year: Keep Wells.
Predicted finish: With Wells, 6th. Without, 10th.
Lee Rowbotham, Kimberworth
Currently sixth in the League One table
Verdict: If we play as well in the second half of the season as we have in the first, then we could reach the play-offs. Sixth is a great position to be in heading into Christmas. However, if we could become more clinical at home anything is possible. The moves we make in the January transfer window will also determine whether we go the course or not.
Best player: Ben Pringle.
Biggest disappointment (player): No obvious candidate.
Best moment: Beating both Sheffield teams within the first two months of the season.
Lowest moment: Losing 4-0 at home to Swindon.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: The start we made was superb. It made a statement.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: Extend the deals of our current loan players and recruit a centre-back.
Advice to manager: Recruit well in January and keep the intensity.
Target for new year: Improve the home form and learn to break teams down better.
Predicted finish: Sixth.
Andrew Briggs, York
Currently 21st in the League Two table
Verdict: The season has alternated between sublime and awful. The performances at home to Portsmouth and Scunthorpe were as good as any I’ve seen for several years. But there have also been some awful displays. The manager, though, seems to be finally addressing things, which is encouraging as we have goals in the team.
Best player: Luke O’Neil.
Biggest disappointment (player): Tom Platt.
Best moment: The first half against Scunthorpe.
Lowest moment: The meek surrender to Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup.
Where this season has gone right/wrong: The defence looks unable to withstand any period of concerted pressure.
What needs to be done in the transfer window: Sign a goalkeeper who can dominate his six-yard box.
Advice to manager: Sort the goalkeeper/centre-half triangle.
Target for new year: Turn some of the many draws into wins.
Predicted finish: Mid-table.