IF Leeds United needed a reminder as to how a hugely promising season can tail off in the new year, a quick glance towards the opposition dugout today should suffice.
Simon Grayson did a fine job at Elland Road, leading the club out of League One and, by Christmas, 2010, to second place in the Championship.
The momentum that had built under Grayson and the attacking ethos he had infused suggested a concerted push for promotion lay ahead in 2011.
Sadly for Leeds, that energy could not be maintained and May saw the club miss out on even a play-off place.
This Christmas is the first time since then that United have had the look of genuine contenders, but captain Liam Bridcutt is keen to stress that no one within Garry Monk’s squad is getting too carried away.
“It is still so early in the season,” said the 27-year-old. “I do think we are maturing as a team and growing as a team.
“We have got a good set of lads and we want to achieve great things and the management has been great. But the key now is not to get carried away.
“We just take it game by game and then, by April, we can hopefully start talking about promotion.”
Bridcutt has 30 Premier League appearances to his name with Sunderland. That taste has made the midfielder, recently back from a three-month injury lay-off, keen to get back among the elite but, for now, his only focus is maintaining United’s impressive form shown in the run-up to Christmas.
“We have been getting the results despite us probably not performing to our best,” he added. “But that is a good thing.
“Imagine what could happen if we do put in the performances we are capable of, the results would be even better.
“We are only looking as far as the next couple of weeks, as this is probably one of the busiest parts of the season. It is also a period that can shape a season.”
Chris Wood is hoping to return at Deepdale after missing the last-gasp victory over Brentford on December 17 through injury.
Otherwise, Monk could stick with the same starting XI for a game with a side who know that a good Christmas – sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday head to Preston on New Year’s Eve – could propel them into the play-off picture.
“For me and the team, you know is going to be tough,” added Bridcutt. “We have got to be in the right mindset.”
As for his own hopes of returning to the starting XI over a festive season that steps up in intensity later in the week with two games inside 48 hours, he added: “That is down to the manager.
“Obviously, if he thinks that I am ready then he will put me in.
“But I am feeling fit and strong. I trained for five days and then had 75 minutes straight back in the team (at Brighton), and I didn’t look out of place.”
Last six games: Preston North End DDLWDW Leeds United LWLWLW.
Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).
Last time: Preston North End 1 Leeds United 1; May 7, 2016; Championship.