CHRISTMAS may, as Andy Williams attests, be the most wonderful time of the year but for Yorkshire football the 2015 festive season could also be the most intriguing.
Certainly, a hectic spell of two games in three days has added spice in 2015 thanks to two of the county’s head coaches experiencing festive football and all its unique challenges for the first time.
Then, there are bogey sides to lay to rest, dreadful recent Christmas form to banish and vital points to be claimed at both the top and bottom. That is just in the Championship, where five of our clubs are in action today and Leeds United tomorrow thanks to Sky TV’s enduring love affair with the Elland Road club and the ratings they bring.
The two men experiencing Christmas football for the first time are Sheffield Wednesday’s Carlos Carvalhal and German David Wagner of Huddersfield Town.
Both have played and coached in leagues with a winter break, meaning this time of year was invariably spent with feet up and chuckling at, as Wagner put it in Christmas Eve’s The Yorkshire Post, the “crazy” English for playing through the entire holiday period.
Carvalhal’s side host Birmingham City knowing victory could bring a play-off berth, while Wagner goes head-to-head with one of his Huddersfield predecessors as Simon Grayson brings his Preston North End side to the John Smith’s Stadium.
“This is a new situation for me,” said the Owls’ Portuguese head coach.
“The culture is completely different than in other countries. I agree with the situation in England because we are here to entertain the people and they want to enjoy it.
“As Besiktas coach, I did once have two-and-a-half days between games. But it being just two makes a big difference. We will, though, be ready.”
Wagner, like Carvalhal, is looking forward to his first taste of festive football as Town attempt to overcome a rotten Boxing Day run that has seen the club claim just one win in ten outings.
“I am very excited about the Boxing Day crowd,” said the German. “I hear that the support is great at this time of year. But we can only celebrate Boxing Day if we win this game.”
Another side whose form at Christmas needs to improve is Leeds, who last won at this time of year in 2009.
Steve Evans is determined to change that in front of the Sky cameras at Nottingham Forest as United look to maintain the December form that has brought ten points from four outings.
“We have got to within five points of the play-offs,” said the Leeds chief. “And it doesn’t matter how many teams are in between.”
“First and foremost, we have to think about getting in the top half of the table. But I am a coach who is used to talking about promotion because I normally get it.”
Also eyeing promotion to the Premier League are Aitor Karanka and Steve Bruce. Leaders Middlesbrough travel to Blackburn Rovers, while Hull City host bogey side Burnley.
The Lancashire club have won nine of the last 10 meetings with the Tigers but Bruce is ready to end that damaging run on an afternoon when Andre Gray, a £9m target last summer, will be at the KC Stadium.
“We haven’t got the best of records against Burnley and they are a very, very good Championship side,” said Bruce, who gave his players yesterday off to spend with their families.
“But if we can win and get to 44 points from 23 games, then we are there or thereabouts for the target we need to get to. If you can be around the two points a game mark then you have always got a hell of a chance of going up.
“It won’t be easy. Gray is one of the best strikers in the Championship, without question. That’s why we tried to bring him here but it didn’t quite happen.”
Rotherham United, fresh from beating the Tigers a week ago, host rock bottom Bolton Wanderers.
Neil Redfearn said: “The win against Hull was massive. It proved if we get the level of performance right, the results will follow.
“Bolton are a good side and the table doesn’t show the true picture.”
Previews: Pages 2-4.