AS a keen angler, David McAllister knows plenty about tight lines – as do Sheffield United for that matter.
Heartbreakingly beaten to a Championship place – something most Blades supporters feel is a minimum requirement – by a penalty kick or two at Wembley in May, margins for error never felt so cruel as they did on that Spring Saturday afternoon in a shattering play-off final loss to Huddersfield Town.
This time around, United are seeking to put some clear blue water between themselves and their rivals in their quest to avoid the lottery of the play-offs and claim promotion by the earliest possible means.
But approaching the festive season and the halfway mark of the League One campaign, inspection of the business end of the table does not yet show clarity, with the top seven separated by just five points.
Opportunity knocks for someone over the congested festive period with sides facing five games between now and January 2, with third-placed Blades’ top-of-the-table home game with current leaders Tranmere Rovers today representing the perfect opportunity to make an early move ahead of one of the most critical times in the footballing calendar.
December proved kind for Danny Wilson’s side last year by virtue of four consecutive league wins and Irish midfielder McAllister says he and his team-mates do not need telling twice about the importance of laying down a marker, starting with the disposal of Ronnie Moore’s Rovers this afternoon at Bramall Lane.
McAllister, expected to deputise for the injured Kevin McDonald after going on to replace the Scot after 48 minutes in last weekend’s 3-1 win at Carlisle United, said: “We talked about things on Thursday as we went for a walk as we could not train due to the weather. We really need to kick on now.
“This Christmas period is going to be so important after what happened towards the end of last season. It could be the making of us really. We are a point off top spot and coming up to the halfway point of the season with the likes of Tranmere, Doncaster and Swindon; it is so tight there at the top.
“Games like Saturday are so important and the next four or five games will tell us where we are going to be at the end of the season.”
On this afternoon’s game with surprise packages Rovers, he added: “If you had said to me at the start of the season that Tranmere would be top, I would have been a bit surprised. I thought it would be ourselves, MK Dons and the likes of Swindon, who we knew would be strong.
“But fair play to Tranmere, they are up there and deserve to be top of the league and, hopefully, we can knock them off now.
“If we did happen to nail down promotion, we would definitely be kicking on to get that number one spot and not two, that is for sure.”
While the run-in to the turn of the year promises to be seminal for United, who start 2013 with a trip to promotion rivals Doncaster Rovers on New Year’s Day, it is also a critical juncture in the campaign for McAllister.
Bestowed with plenty of praise ahead of today’s game, the versatile Dubliner – whose recent input has been described as ‘fantastic’ by boss Wilson – is keen to make a statement in the coming weeks approaching his 24th birthday on December 29, when United welcome Hartlepool United.
Wilson also spoke about the former Shelbourne and St Patrick’s Athletic player’s adaptability to cover in several positions, as well as his knack of grabbing a goal or two with his most recent coming in last week’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy game at Coventry City.
McAllister admits he would love a regular run in the side, although he is not too fussed whereabouts with the Irishman acknowledging the difficulties in displacing the recognised engine-room duo of Michael Doyle and McDonald, who are both close to shoo-ins when fit.
McAllister, who has started 10 league games so far in 2012-13, said: “We have got a few big games coming up, starting with Tranmere, and it would be nice to go on a bit of a sustained run in the team.
“The lads in there are an integral partnership. But I am just trying to take my chance when it comes along.
“I am a different kind of player to Kevin; it is hard to come on and do what he does as not many people can keep the ball as well as he does.
“I would like to think I am someone who is box-to-box, who can nick a few goals, which I have done over my career. I also like to get a few tackles in and get around the pitch.
“I have played wide before back in Ireland, although I am not an out-and-out winger with pace who can beat a man. But I can do a job there if the gaffer wants me to.”
McAllister, who spent a rewarding loan spell at Shrewsbury Town in the second half of last term, added: “I am more involved this year, which I am happy about.
“My goal is to nail down a first-team position this season and I am in contract for another year as well.
“There is competition for places. But among everyone here is a great team spirit and you can see it all over the pitch – how we celebrate goals and wins on the pitch. We are a real unit.
“Christmas time is a busy period with so many games and there’s always going to be opportunities with various injuries and suspensions.
“Maybe not just for myself, but for a lot of lads trying to get in, it is an important time.”