This, to my mind, was always the stage of the season when you knew what you and your team-mates were shooting for. It’s easy for expectation to jump the gun, as probably happened at Leeds United a few months ago, but divisions usually take shape by Christmas.
Form in August and September can be flash-in-the-pan. By December or January time you’ve played everyone in the league and you know fine well how you’re matching up to them.
Take Wolves as an example. They’re 20 games in, they’re a mile clear of second and they could hit 50 points tomorrow. There are very few question marks left about them and I can’t see anyone else taking the title.
Likewise, if you’ve been around the bottom three for a while then you’re not about to start putting together a run which troubles the top six.
As players you always try to see the best-case scenario and keep the dream alive but you can’t hide from reality.
I get that Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday produced blinding results at the end of last season but they were never a million miles back from the play-offs. And that’s what the Christmas period is all about – staying in touch.
There are so many games in this period. As the saying goes, it’s a chance to bag four or fives wins and shoot up the Championship.
But everyone else has the same intention and the stack of points on offer sometimes disguises the pressure of a really busy schedule.
You want the best results possible, obviously you do, but it’s just as important to minimise the bad days.
Because, Christmas being Christmas in the Championship, there are bound to be some.
The position Leeds find themselves in – five points back from sixth place – is a relatively fair representation of their season, I feel.
It’s disappointing on the basis of where they were midway through September, but when you consider the number of defeats they’ve had since then, it’s almost a bonus to be so close.
I doubt Thomas Christiansen is ecstatic about lying eighth, but he’ll see an opportunity in front of him, an opportunity which really depends on how his players cope over the next month.
Ideally he’d prefer to be in a play-off spot now, and for years I’ve thought that leading from near the front is the way to go.
If you’re in the top six, someone has to knock you out and if your form holds up then there’s not a lot they can do. If you’re chasing the top six then, fundamentally, your results have to be better than one of the teams in front of you.
That puts the pressure on and so often the pressure tells.
Then we had last season, when Leeds bombed out of what seemed to be a cast-iron top-six finish. I remember saying in this column that I thought they were home and dry, that I couldn’t see them failing to get enough points from the six or seven games they had left.
Then the collapse started and it all fell apart.
Since then, some of what I’ve heard makes me wonder how much everyone was on the same page towards the end, but, for whatever reason, the club lost their nerve.
It almost felt as if coming from a distance behind let Fulham, in particular, play freely.
As I see it, Wolves are the only ‘sure thing’ in the race for promotion.
Cardiff’s consistency – the age-old Neil Warnock factor – is giving them a great chance, but Wolves are on another level.
We saw that when Leeds went to Molineux a couple of weeks back. I like Samuel Saiz a lot and Gjanni Alioski too, but there’s no denying that some of Wolves’ attacking players are in a class above.
Through Jorge Mendes and his contacts they’ve managed to sign players who, with the greatest of respect, probably wouldn’t have thought twice about going there.
All the clichéd bulls*** about coping with the physicality or the cold weather in England has been shown to be just that.
Their dressing room seems tight and why wouldn’t it be? No matter who’s earning what or who’s taking the headlines, as a squad they’re headed for the Premier League.
That thought creates its own atmosphere and knits everyone together.
Leeds, at this moment, are steadying themselves more than anything but you have to say that the cohesion within the club seems good. They lost enough games in that run of seven from nine matches for cracks to appear, but there’s no sense of disquiet or factions forming.
The players look like they’re with Christiansen and he’s managed to keep the season afloat.
All in all, I think he’d take the league as it stands after 20 matches.
It’ll be fascinating now to see what he learned about the Championship during that bad run and how much better he handles the next block of games.
At this stage, Leeds don’t need to be storming into the top six, but they need to stay close and, if I’m being honest, I don’t think the depth of their squad would allow for a desperate charge at the last minute.
We’re still at the point where there’s hope rather than outright expectation of the club making the play-offs.
By the turn of the year, we’ll know if they’re up to it.
Upcoming Championship fixtures on Sky Sports: Tonight, Sheffield United v Bristol City (7.45pm); Saturday, Norwich City v Sheffield Wednesday (5.30pm); Monday, Reading v Cardiff City (8pm).