Preston North End assistant boss Glynn Snodin says that this weekend is the right time to start studying the League One table in detail.
The Lilywhites have plenty of work to do over the next 20 games – starting at Crawley today – if they are to impact the automatic promotion places.
League leaders Swindon are eight points clear of PNE and Bristol City, in second place, seven points ahead of them.
Third-placed MK Dons have a five-point cushion over Simon Grayson’s side, who go to Crawley chasing their first win in the league since Boxing Day.
Snodin said: “We are in there with a fighting chance, the gap is seven points with a lot of games to play.
“I feel this is where the season starts. I never look at league tables with any great interest until February 1.
“This is the time where you earn your bread and butter.
“It gets tense, you see what other teams do and ask can they handle it?
“Credit to the sides who are up there at the moment, they have done well.
“People keep saying Swindon’s bubble is going to burst but everyone is still finding it hard to play against them.
“Bristol City have bought well and are strong, athletic-wise.
“There are different systems being played up there, you have got 3-5-2 at Swindon and Bristol City, then MK Dons are playing 4-3-3.
“Everyone talks of 4-4-2 but the top three aren’t doing badly with the systems they have got. When we have played with a 4-4-3 we have come out well, especially in the first part of the season.”
Formations and systems will always divide opinion, with Snodin of the view that teams play the ones which best suit the players at their disposal, rather than forcing them into a particular one.
Over the first half of the campaign, North End largely used a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 with a single central striker.
Joe Garner handled that job well but since he was sidelined in November, Grayson has switched between two up front and trying others in the Garner role.
Said Snodin: “You look at what your strengths are and the philosophy of how you want to play.
“That is what we did at the start of the season, how you think you are going to get the best results.
“We are doing okay, the next 20 games can get see us getting to where we want to be.
“When you talk about various formations, look at how Brentford played last season.
“They went 4-3-3 and the three up front were like the Red Arrows.
“Everyone has a different way of playing, it is about getting the best out of what you have at the club.”
Snodin believes that Kyel Reid is starting to have more influence on games, the winger’s confidence growing the more he plays after his recovery from knee surgery.
“Kyel’s head is clear of worry now, he knows if he gets a knock the injury isn’t there anymore,” said Snodin.
“The boy is a threat down that side – when he gets the ball he likes to run and be direct. His only problem comes when he stops with the ball, we don’t want him doing that – he doesn’t have the picture in his head when he stops.
“Kyel is at his best when he is running at the full-back in full flow, they must hate it when he is coming at them every two or three minutes.”
Meanwhile, PNE supporters are reminded that anyone buying a ticket for the FA Cup replay at Sheffield United will be entitled to a seat for the fifth round should they win the Bramall Lane clash.