Torquay United fans should take heart from performances of a year ago
If Torquay United need any inspiration, as they head for Bradford City's cavernous Valley Parade stadium today, they need only cast their minds back 12 months, to the second weekend in December 2011.
Kevin Nicholson's goal-of-the-season winner in stoppage time against Barnet on a Friday night at Plainmoor lifted the Gulls up to eighth place in League Two, on 31 points from 20 games. In all respects, that's exactly where they stand, as they say, at this moment in time.
What should encourage Martin Ling's squad, bar a bad day at Accrington Stanley, is what followed during the rest of December and January last season.
All Torquay fans will be hoping that centre forward Rene Howe does not get sent off, as he did at Accrington where United lost 3-1.
However, after that hiccup last year United set off on a run of eight wins in nine unbeaten games, including victories over leaders Swindon Town at Plainmoor on Boxing Day and Plymouth Argyle at Home Park on January 2.
The hot streak ended with a 1-0 victory at Cheltenham on Valentine's night which lifted them up into the automatic promotion places for the first time.
United did eventually force their way into second place before they ran out of steam over the last five games and had to settle for a place in the play-offs.
Few Gulls fans feel that Ling's 2012 team has yet hit top form, but there are reasons to be cheerfully optimistic.
Even though Howe has not scored for seven games, United's talented targetman is a more mature player this time around, nearly as happy on the pitch as he is off it, where he and his partner are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first child.
A year ago, Ling's reshuffled midfield was just starting to click, with mercurial Ulsterman Eunan O'Kane hitting top form.
With one or two different faces on view now, there are signs that another remodelled 'engine room' is beginning to work.
And though a Bobby Olejnik-inspired defence reeled off a whole series of match-winning clean-sheets last season, the current back-four, built around the pairing of Brian Saah and Aaron Downes plus goalkeeper Michael Poke, have the potential to prove just as good.
It is the time of year when the serious teams start to put their feet to the floor. United have been here before.