Hartlepool United are at a crossroads.
They’re past the half-way point of their season, yet they have never really ever got themselves into the promotion or play-off race, despite talking a good game.
Now, is the time to either put up or shut up – in a footballing sense, anyway.
Pools either need to come to the National League party or accept that this campaign is nothing more than a one for steadying the ship after 12 months of choppy waters – hopefully the calm before next season’s storm.
A seven-point gap to the top seven is far from insurmountable, but at no point this season have Pools ever done anything more than threaten at elbowing their way onto the dancefloor.
Festive periods can be hectic, fraught with injury risk and pass within the blink of an eye, but they’re also the perfect opportunity to get on a roll.
Now, by no means is that going to be easy, especially with manager Craig Harrison facing an injury crisis, topped off with a sickness bug, all framed with financial instability off the park.
The next five games over the Christmas period could make or break Pools’ season. And here we take a closer look at what lies in store for Harrison & Co over the next 15 days...
*Maidenhead United (H) – Saturday, December 23
If you want to go up, it’s a game you have to win, especially on home turf.
Pools were thoroughly outclassed down at York Road earlier in the season, much more than the 2-1 scoreline suggested.
They simply cannot allow that to happen again this time around.
The tables have turned, of course. Down there, the grass was left deliberately long and unwatered due to having a former Football League big boy in town.
Equally, from the other side of things, Pools have definitely lost any kind of fear factor they had back then.
*Gateshead (A) – Tuesday, December 26
Gateshead born and bred. That’s exactly how Pools boss Harrison describes himself.
His family live there, his friends, too, but, according to Harrison, that’s exactly where the allegiances end.
This has the potential to be a local cracker.
Pools have lacked a derby since the embarrassing capitulation of Darlington as a North East force, so the Gateshead clash adds a bit of spice.
*Chester (A) – Saturday, December 30
On paper, this is by far and away Pools’ easiest of the festive calender.
Part-time Chester are struggling at the bottom end of the division, although they have lost just two of their last seven in all competitions. They possess a record any Poolie would snap your hands off for.
Harrison knows all about Chester, having lived just around the corner during his time managing in Wales.
*Gateshead (H) – Monday, January 1
Roles reversed this time – Heed are in town on New Year’s Day. The sides will have managed to get a measure of each other on Boxing Day, and this time, on home turf, against a side who are also meandering in mid-table, provides another opportunity to press home an advantage.
*Dagenham & Redbridge (A) – Saturday, January 6
Long trips are part and parcel of life at this level, just ask the Poolie faithful who have been up and down the country relentlessly this campaign already.
History provides a decent lesson when it comes to this fixture. Pools have gone there four times, losing just once.
Something similar is required this time if they’re to get their season on track. Although the Daggers have eyes of winning the title.