Last day for loan deals until January by Phil Hay Dennis Wise was considering his last throw of the loan-market dice today as Leeds United gathered themselves for the run-in to January.
Eight matches lie ahead of United between Saturday's visit to Plymouth and the start of 2007, dangling in front of them 24 points that Dennis Wise dare not squander.
Christmas in the Football League is not a time for charity.
Since the start of the 2001-02 season, only four clubs who have reached New Year inside the Championship's relegation zone have found safety by the beginning of May.
Sheffield Wednesday performed the great escape twice, but the other 10 clubs have seen the writing on the wall long before their time was up.
The January transfer window is the most suitable time for managers at both ends of the Championship's spectrum to call for reinforcements, but it is the unforgiving period before and around Christmas that decides how frantic their search will be.
The Football League's loan deadline was ready to fall at 5pm this evening, and from that point on the transfer market will be of no immediate use to Wise.
The month following his appointment has been dominated by comings and goings, but plans for improving United's squad will be suspended until January.
Wise now has a definite hand to play with in a game of increasingly high stakes.
The first-team at Elland Road has altered in shape since his appointment, with Graham Stack and Matt Heath joining the club and Robbie Blake finding a niche as Wise's link between midfield and attack.
The serious remoulding is likely to start in January, however, when permanent transfers return to the agenda, and the Football League's loan market has been a gruelling bargaining ground for United.
Wise relied on the goodwill of Reading and Coventry to sign Stack and Heath on loan, but the Football League's system of compensating the restrictions of the transfer window has offered little more than a chance to paper over gaps.
When traditional trading resumes in January, Wise's options will be as great as the funds created by his chairman Ken Bates, but where loans are concerned, United's boss is short of pulling power.
Available players are limited to those considered fringe squad members or excess baggage by other clubs.
A small number of prime options attract the greatest amount of interest, leaving managers to squabble over the same players.
And all the time, those managers asked to sanction loans are asking themselves whether cutting back is a sensible strategy with eight games planned for the coming five weeks.
Wise has been heavily linked with Coventry's Dele Adebola this week, and United were believed to have brokered a deal seven days ago before an injury to Stern John undermined the agreement.
John's quick return to fitness created another window of opportunity, but Wise appeared to have been beaten to the punch today.
Coventry manager Micky Adams has been told to operate a policy of 'one in, one out' by the board at the Ricoh Arena, and his capture of Darren Currie from Ipswich last night was expected to be offset by Wayne Andrews' departure for Sheffield Wednesday this morning.
With Andrews redressing the balance of Coventry's squad, Adams' was under no pressure or obligation to release Adebola, a player who started for City against Sheffield Wednesday last weekend and is regularly named on the bench.
The 31-year-old would have added height and physical presence to United's attack – factors in short supply at Elland Road while Richard Cresswell recovers from a new knee problem – but that avenue appeared to be closing rapidly this morning.
Wise also admitted his interest in Sheffield United's Paul Ifill last weekend, and Neil Warnock seemed open to the possibility of releasing the midfielder on loan.
Ifill, however, was still in the Caribbean today on international duty with Barbados, and his involvement in the Digicel Cup has left little time for United to raise the subject of a transfer.
Sunderland have also expressed their interest in the 27-year-old.
Leeds defender Paul Butler, meanwhile, continued the flow of players out of Elland Road by signing for MK Dons on loan yesterday.
United's former captain has signed for Martin Allen's side until January 2, with a possible view to a permanent deal.
Butler's departure follows that of Sean Gregan, who moved to Oldham earlier this month, and Leeds are in the process of paying off Steve Stone, Seb Carole and Rui Marques.