Yorkshire clubs can't afford to be in giving mood over festive season

CHRISTMAS may be a time for giving but for Yorkshire's football clubs the coming festive season is all about collecting points

Whether the season is shaping up to be a promotion battle or a desperate fight against relegation, so many games being played in such a short space of time means this is always an important part of the year.

Make a mess of it and a team can be left with nothing more to look forward to than months of struggle in the New Year, whereas a run of victories can provide sufficient momentum to propel a side towards success.

This year may not be quite as hectic as usual due to Christmas Day falling on a Saturday, meaning every club has the minimum of a blank eight days before, weather permitting, the action gets underway in earnest on Boxing Day.

But that does not mean the 2010 festive period is going to be any less crucial than usual for White Rose football as the vast majority of our sides look to either consolidate a push for the top or put vital space between themselves and the bottom of the table.

Looking at a fixture schedule that includes four games in the space of nine days for all but Leeds United (Simon Grayson's side game at Cardiff City planned for January 3 has been put back a day on police advice), Doncaster Rovers could be the big winners.

So far this season, Rovers have not quite made the impact this correspondent was expecting following the statement of intent by the board that was the summer capture of Billy Sharp.

Six defeats from 11 games on the road explain why Sean O'Driscoll's side sit four points off the play-off places in 11th going into Christmas.

But a fixture list that includes four eminently winnable games against out-of-sorts opposition in Derby County, Ipswich Town, Scunthorpe United and Sheffield United means that could easily have all changed by the time the Championship takes a break for the FA Cup third round on January 8.

Such is the closely-fought nature of the second tier – just one point separates seven teams sitting immediately below the play-offs – that a return of 12 or even 10 points would firmly propel Doncaster into the race for the Premier League.

Another one of our clubs who know that a lucrative Christmas and New Year could lift them from mid-table into the upper echelons of the table are Barnsley.

Like Doncaster, home form has been the bedrock of the Reds' points tally and they will be confident of making it victory number seven at Oakwell when Burnley, who have won just once on the road in 18 months, are the visitors on Boxing Day.

Far more testing, however, will be the back-to-back away games at Swansea City and Nottingham Forest plus the home meeting with play-off chasing Coventry City, meaning Mark Robins's side may have to settle for a target of maintaining their current standing as being handily placed come the end of the festive season.

Completing South Yorkshire's trio of sides are Sheffield United, who have had a difficult 2010.

Following on from the morale-boost of beating Swansea last Saturday, the Blades badly need to build on that with a decent result at home to Hull City on Boxing Day due to the rest of their holiday schedule featuring tough-looking games at Norwich City and Burnley plus the January 3 visit of Doncaster to Bramall Lane.

Hull, like the Blades, are another team who have had a disappointing first half of the season due to a chronic lack of goals, meaning it is difficult to look beyond a draw when the two clubs meet on Sunday.

After that short jaunt down the M18, the Tigers host Reading and Leicester City before travelling to Portsmouth – a run of games that, considering how all three could yet feature in the promotion race, should put to the test the unbeaten run that currently stands at six games.

Leicester and Portsmouth are also part of in-form Leeds United's festive programme along with a New Year's Day meeting with Middlesbrough at Elland Road and that trip to Cardiff a fortnight today.

Considering how Bluebirds fans seem to enjoy beating only Swansea more than the Yorkshire club, that visit to Wales is likely to be a daunting one while a point at the Walkers Stadium against one of the two teams to truly outclass Grayson's men this season would have to be considered a good result.

Boro will be hoping to exact revenge over United at Elland Road, but it is the visit to fellow strugglers Preston North End a week today that surely offers the best chance for Tony Mowbray's men to strike a blow in the fight to stay up.

In League One, the clear highlight of the festive period in Yorkshire is the derby showdown between Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday on

January 3.

Before that televised encounter at the Galpharm, however, both clubs face contrasting schedules with games against Tranmere Rovers and bottom club Yeovil Town being ones the Owls need to win ahead of taking on promotion rivals Peterborough United on New Year's Day.

For the Terriers, the Boxing Day visit of Hartlepool United should not pose too much of a problem but they will then have to be at their best at Southampton and Carlisle United, the New Year's Day clash at Brunton Park being the first of four meetings with the Cumbrians in the space of 39 days.

In the basement division, Rotherham United's home game against second placed Port Vale on New Year's Day stands out as Ronnie Moore's side look to put pressure on the sides above them in the table, while under-performing Bradford City's season could be kick-started by victory over leaders Chesterfield on Boxing Day.