IT’S the most wonderful time of the year.
So sang Andy Williams a little over half a century ago and after what can only be described as a disappointing season so far for the vast majority of Yorkshire’s football clubs, the need for Christmas to be a happy time for one and all in the county has perhaps never been so pressing.
The festive fixture lists for all four divisions feature games with potentially huge significance when it comes to deciding whether the new year is going to be a happy or miserable affair for many of the region’s football supporters.
Whether it be Hull City in the Premier League or York City in the basement division, the scramble for points has rarely been so acute as the dreaded spectre of relegation continues to hover over far too many of our clubs.
For Yorkshire’s sole representative in the top flight, dropping a division would have huge financial ramifications.
Which is why the clashes with Sunderland and Leicester City, two of seven clubs separated by just a few points near the foot of the table, have taken on such significance for Steve Bruce’s men.
Ditto the New Year’s Day clash at home to Everton, which will kick off the second half of the season for the Tigers.
Middlesbrough apart, the Championship has been a depressing affair once again for the county with Leeds United, Rotherham United and Huddersfield Town all in grave danger of being sucked into major trouble near the foot of the table.
Two of that trio meet at the New York Stadium on Boxing Day, when the Terriers will look to halt a worrying four-game losing run on the road.
Just three points separate Town from the Millers, who have scored a pitiful one goal in 672 minutes. Even that solitary strike came against bottom club Blackpool, surely leaving Steve Evans wishing this Christmas for his front-line to start firing again.
Rotherham travel to the seaside two days after hosting Huddersfield, underlining just why this festive season has the potential to define their entire campaign.
The same cannot quite be said about Leeds, who sit just above the relegation pack. But there is a growing unease at Elland Road about what the second half of the season could bring so a win at home to second-bottom Wigan Athletic on Boxing Day would be a welcome present.
Also due to face the Latics are Sheffield Wednesday, who despite netting just five times in 11 home games are nicely ensconced in mid-table and 10 points clear of trouble.
Relegation, a threat that has dominated far too many Christmases at Hillsborough, seems to be something about which other clubs should worry.
Nevertheless, a season that offers back-to-back games against the bottom two in the Championship does need to yield a couple of good results just to keep the Owls ahead of the chasing pack.
At the top end of the Championship, Boro continue to impress.
Tomorrow, though, will bring a stiff test at fourth-placed Ipswich Town before a home game against Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day and a trip to Blackburn offers a potential six-point haul to round off the year.
In League One, the picture for Yorkshire football is, at least, brighter than that in the other three divisions.
Sheffield United, despite a recent wobble in form, have been in and around the top six for some time, while Bradford City are now snapping at the heels of the play-off pack after a decent run of form.
For the Blades, home games against Walsall and Scunthorpe United are key as no doubt both clubs will follow the approach of many recent visitors to the Lane and sit behind the ball.
It is an approach that Nigel Clough’s men, fresh from reaching the Capital One Cup semi-finals, are struggling to counter so a couple of festive victories would go down almost as well as a greasy chip butty, washed down with a gallon of Magnet.
Scunthorpe also visit Valley Parade tomorrow but it is the home game against Notts County that looks to be the toughest assignment for Phil Parkinson’s Bradford.
Elsewhere in the third tier, a trio of quickfire games does, at least, offer an opportunity for both Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers to make up for a disappointing first few months of the season.
However, with the Reds at Preston on Boxing Day and Rovers on the road to Swindon Town and Peterborough United over Christmas, points may be hard to come by.
This has certainly been the case for York, who are in grave danger of setting an unwanted club record.
Should the Minstermen fail to beat Accrington Stanley at Bootham Crescent on Boxing Day, that will be 14 home games without a win – enough to match the previous worst, set in 1981-82.
The game against Stanley, though, may not be the most important of the holiday period with Russ Wilcox’s men travelling to Carlisle United, the club currently occupying the final relegation place, two days later.
Lose that and it will be the equivalent of a six-point swing to the Cumbrian club in the fight to avoid demotion to the Conference. A sobering thought, indeed, at this most sociable time of the year.