Harrogate Town reaping their rewards having learned from mistakes of Christmas past
Harrogate Town’s excellent form between Christmas and New Year owes much to lessons learned 12 months previous.
Simon Weaver’s team have won each of their last three matches, dismantling Hartlepool on Boxing Day before winning at Chorley, then edging the return fixture with Pools.
Last season, Town took just one point from a possible 15 during the festive period, with their manager even going as far as to question whether some of his players had over-indulged on Christmas Day in the wake of a flat performance against FC Halifax Town.
And although a stoppage-time concession condemned them to a 2-1 loss at Boreham Wood on December 21, the Wetherby Road outfit haven't looked back since, climbing up from seventh place in the National League standings to within three points of the summit.
Quite the contrast from 2018/19, where Harrogate were losing momentum and beginning to slip down the table following their flying start to life in English football's fifth tier.
So, what is the difference? Well, as far as captain Josh Falkingham is concerned, the team's improved showing this time around can be attributed to their adopting of a slightly different approach.
"I've spoken a lot about the festive period and about what we didn't do last year. We needed to learn, but that's three wins out of three, so the lads have done brilliant," he said.
"I was gutted after Boreham Wood because that was a killer blow for us, but I just hoped that we would hold our nerve and stay strong.
"We've really prepared well this year. Training has been very light because we've learned a little bit from last year. The sessions between games have had to be light, but we'd never been in the situation we found ourselves in last year [the club's first ever in the National League].
"Preparation-wise, the lads deserve a lot of credit for looking after themselves because at the end of the day, Christmas time, you've got to be so professional.
"It's right in front of your face and sometimes it's hard to turn down, but we're a good bunch and that's credit to the management for putting together a side who are as professional as we are.
"As players, you reap the rewards of looking after yourselves and we deserve a lot of credit because you can tell in the performances.
"The last 10 or 15 minutes of the last three games we've looked really strong and that's all down to looking after ourselves and making sure we've not done anything stupid over the festive period."
In the build-up to Christmas, much was spoken about the bearing that a team's performance during a period where they play five times in the space of just 15 days can have on their season as a whole.
From management through to various members of the playing squad, the message was the same; must do better than last year.
And, indeed, three consecutives wins leave Town within touching distance of top spot, albeit having played a couple of games more than league leaders Barrow.
But, as Falkingham was quick to point out, Harrogate are still very much in the mix.
"Look at the great teams that Sir Alex Ferguson put together. He made sure that they were right in about it at Christmas and then you win leagues January, February, March," he added.
"I see this totally. We've got ourselves in a fantastic position, three points off top and there's a lot of big, big games coming up in these next couple of months.
"We'll keep our feet on the ground and make sure we don't get carried away, but now, it's all about kicking on because our season will be made in the next few months.
"We've won three on the spin but we can't just rest on the good week that we've had. We've got just as big a game as any on Saturday against Maidenhead.
"We've got to make sure we start fast like we always try to, and we fight and battle and do everything that we can do come away with another three points."
Kick-off in Saturday's clash between Town and 17th-placed Maidenhead at the CNG Stadium is at 3pm.