THERE is no point checking the league table until the daffodils and tulips are sprouting.
The above phrase has been uttered on countless occasions over the years by someone who knows a thing or two about the Championship in the shape of former Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City chief and current Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce.
It refers to the futility, in his view, of looking at tables until March time.
The sagacious Geordie – promoted four times from the second tier to the Premier League – may have a point.
But for Leeds United and three of his former clubs in Wednesday, Hull and Huddersfield Town alongside Barnsley and Middlesbrough, success or otherwise in the intervening period between now and the end of February has the real potential to be just as fateful in terms of their respective final standings in early May.
It is spiced by a liberal sprinkling of matches against Yorkshire rivals to whet the appetite of the neutral, starting with this weekend’s White Rose double-header to set the pulses racing.
Recent history has shown us that these sort of occasions are usually keenly fought, rarely one-sided.
Perhaps the one exception of late was Wednesday’s 2-0 win at Huddersfield in mid-September – a game which unusually pitted two managers in their first outings at their new clubs in Garry Monk and Danny Cowley.
On the same Sunday lunch-time, Leeds secured an identical margin of victory at Oakwell, but the game was firmly in the balance until late on, with many Whites followers of the view that Barnsley gave their side as many problems as anyone in the opening quarter of the season.
Another double-header arrived in late October with the fate of Huddersfield’s home encounter with the Reds and Leeds’s trip to the Owls being in doubt until the final whistle.
Recent history has shown us that these sort of occasions are usually keenly fought, rarely one-sided.Leon Wobschall
It yielded a precious if narrow 2-1 home win for Town, while it ended in stalemate at Hillsborough, despite both sides having chances to win it.
Similarly, most observers expect the margins to be tight in the reverse fixtures at Oakwell and Elland Road this weekend.
As they were, by and large, when all four sides faced each other on the same weekend twice back in the 2016-17 season in a quirk of fixture fate.
Leeds, who had held sway 2-0 at Hillsborough in early season, edged out Wednesday 1-0 in the reverse fixture in February 2017 thanks to a Chris Wood strike, although they were indebted to a key penalty save from Robert Green to thwart Jordan Rhodes in a battle between two promotion contenders.
On that same winter’s day, David Wagner’s promotion-chasing Town, who had edged past Barnsley 2-1 in August following a dramatic and rare 90th-minute winner from Jonathan Hogg, were held in a 1-1 draw at Barnsley.
A 75th-minute equaliser from Reds forward Marley Watkins ensured that the high-flying Terriers were denied in their quest to register a seventh successive league win for the first time since November 1982.
Two White Rose double-headers last season also proved close calls, with Wednesday and Leeds and Hull and Boro playing out 1-1 autumnal draws before the second instalments during ‘squeaky-bum time’ in April ended in tight 1-0 victories for the home sides at Elland Road and the Riverside Stadium respectively.
Meanwhile, Barnsley’s weekend home game with the Terriers – also toiling at the wrong end of the Championship table – will represent a sign of things to come at Oakwell, with Wednesday being the Reds’ next scheduled league visitors on February 8.
Boro head there two weeks later.
For Huddersfield, their next two league fixtures after Saturday – a home game with an in-form Brentford side and a trip to promotion-chasing Fulham – further heighten the need to get a result at Oakwell for their own peace of mind.
Next month also has the potential for intrigue on the local front with Leeds facing potentially tricky looking back-to-back trips to Hull and Boro in late February as they aim to keep their promotion bandwagon firmly on track ahead of the home straight.
Leeds also face awkward looking journeys to QPR, Nottingham Forest and Brentford before February is out, with Whites fans entitled to be mindful of their side’s poor recent record in London in particular.
For Wednesday, forthcoming games at Elland Road and Oakwell constitute a test of nerve, while Hull must negotiate consecutive home tests with Barnsley and Leeds at the end of winter to harden their play-off drive at a critical juncture.
After four Yorkshire sides square off on Saturday, another notable date in the diary arrives on March 7, when the West Yorkshire derby takes place at Elland Road and Hull welcome Boro.
Just over a month later on April 18, Leeds entertain Barnsley and Wednesday host Huddersfield, although there promises to be plenty of twists and turns before then. Fasten your seatbelts.