IT WAS legendary crooner Andy Williams who sang “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
But while the mass populace across the country are settling down for Christmas, donning their party flocks and gladrags and treating themselves to a warming mug of mulled wine or two at office ‘do’s’, you sense that the moods of football managers in Yorkshire will be solely dictated by the events of the next three weeks or so in a typically hectic schedule.
The weekend sees a full programme of action, with the action getting underway early on Friday night when Rotherham United visit Blackburn Rovers.
For some clubs, it’s the chance to build on morale-boosting successes from last weekend or continue an upturn. Or, conversely, the opportunity to end a malaise and get back ‘on the horse’, so to speak.
Here’s a look at five weekend talking points for the weekend ahead ...
1: After a complacent weekend showing and reality check, Hull need to get back on message.
The Tigers first-half performance at Elland Road stank the place out last time out, with Steve Bruce as ashen-faced and angry as he has arguably ever been throughout his reign in East Yorkshire. It’s now four matches in all competitions without a win for Hull - with the arrival of crisis club Bolton Wanderers at the KC Stadium this weekend seemingly an opportune one. But after a complacent performance for the first 45 minutes at Leeds - in a game in which the hosts wanted victory more and fully deserved the spoils - Hull’s attitude and mindset must be A-OK. Bolton are scrapping for the lives and need to be afforded respect. Hull had their warning last time out, surely.
2: Opportunity presents itself for Huddersfield Town. First win of David Wagner’s tenure. TICK. First home win under the German? TICK???
Huddersfield’s next two matches are against Bristol City and Rotherham at home If Town don’t muster at least four points from both fixtures, it will represent a sore disappointment to the home faithful, for sure. The signs are good - the early weeks of the Wagner reign have been invigorating, with the energy and quality levels something akin to reacquainting with an old friend for Town fans. Proficient for 70 minutes before tiring against Wednesday and outstanding in the opening 45 against Boro, Town put together a performance of substance over ninety minutes in last week’s win over Birmingham. Carrying off from where they left off at St Andrews is the order of the day this weekend.
Town’s next five home league games? Bristol City, Rotherham, Preston, Charlton and Fulham. The word fans are looking for is opportunity. And points.
3: Leeds United. Same again, Steve? Or changes perhaps.
Steve Evans earned plenty of tactical brownie points for deploying a 4-1-4-1 formation to winning effect against Hull, with Liam Bridcutt paired in with Tom Adeyemi, with both providing a bulwark in front of a flaky back four and providing renewed energy, bite and vigour in the cockpit of operations. Now it’s onto Charlton, as Leeds seek back-to-back league wins for the second time this term. Does Evans go on the offensive and go 4-4-2 and bring back Mirco Antenucci or does he stick with the same system? That might be where the smart money lies, but time will tell.
4: After failing to blitz that ‘not-beaten-a-top-side-this-season’ statistic last weekend, Sheffield Wednesday are afforded strike two.
Organised and obdurate against Derby last weekend - and producing some quality particularly in the first period - Wednesday head to Cardiff this weekend, with the Welshman current occupiers of sixth place in the table, which is the one play-off slot which looks up for grabs at the moment. The top five aren’t quite safe as houses, but are looking strong and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the current quintet don’t claim hegemony over the final placings in May. As for what order, who knows.
December is a key month for many sides, certainly for Wednesday, who also face Cardiff, Birmingham and Boro this month and have winnable games against MK Dons and Wolves, the sort you need to pick up points from if you are to make a mark this term. Victory in the principality will see the Owls in the top six for the first time in 2015-16. Juicy incentive that...
5: Forget Manchester United, Blades.
That will have been the message at Sheffield United’s Shirecliffe training ground this week once the hullabaloo of drawing the Red Devils at Old Trafford in the third-round of the FA Cup had died down. The game represents something to rally around, for sure. But is still just under a month off and represents a bonus, that’s all. The fact that the Blades - 14 points behind current leaders Burton - welcome one of the division’s leading, in-form and talked-about sides in Coventry this Sunday in a high-profile fixture should at least ensure that Manchester United is well off the menu. For Nigel Adkins and assistant-boss Andy Crosby, the only big game that currently matters is Coventry.