If the pantomime genie offered Preston Grasshoppers three wishes this Christmas as they start the second half of the campaign, there is little doubt what they would be.
First, to prevent their three-match losing streak from turning into their worst run of the season. Next they would want to complete the double over Roses rivals Otley, and finally, drag themselves away from just above the National League Two North drop zone.
Ahead of what is seen as a ‘must-win’ game, head coach Garth Dew said: “The next few games are huge. If we can get a result against Otley, we have what looks like an easier run of games in the New Year, with Broadstreet and Stockport.
“The lads are hungry for results and now there is a different type of pressure as we will be expected to win these games and turn the season around.”
Hoppers will also be anxious to put behind them the memory of a second “whitewash” of the season at Caldy last weekend.
Once again, it will not be easy but there are reasons for hope.
Otley come to Lightfoot Green in sixth place, with eight victories out of 15 but have won only two out of eight away from Cross Green and have lost their last four on the road.
Hoppers are also the only team to have won at Otley this season – 24-17 back in the second week of the campaign, since when the Yorkshiremen have won six in a row at home.
In addition, Preston pulled off the double last season.
After a cameo appearance off the bench last week, Alex Zavallis-Roebuck starts at fly-half – the first time he has done so since, coincidentally, last year’s victory at Otley.
His return brings a reshuffle in the backs, with Sam Russell at centre, Phil Baines on the wing and Scott Jordan at full-back.
The only change up front sees Rich Morton at prop for the injured Pete Altham, with Dan Madden providing cover on the bench.
Fylde end 2014 with a second successive home game and a prime chance to extend their record at Ansdell this season to nine straight victories.
Their visitors are Macclesfield, bottom of National One in their first campaign after being promoted.
Fylde won 47-0 in Cheshire in September but coach Mark Nelson is keen to stress: “We can’t think we’re on our Christmas holidays already.”
Still lying fourth after last Saturday’s extraordinary win over Richmond with the help of a controversial late penalty try, Fylde have won 10 in total, with one draw and four defeats.
Gareth Rawlings returns to the second row after suspension, with Joe Robinson reverting to flanker. Tom Burtonwood starts at hooker and Jordan Dorrington returns on the wing after injury. Sam Bedlow joins the replacements.
There is no action in North One West until the New Year but there will be the usual festive rugby fare on offer around the region over Christmas – not least Hoppers’ now traditional Boxing Day game in aid of charity and to honour a loyal servant.
This year’s game is to mark the contribution to the club of recent president Malcolm Alden, a former 1st XV prop and coach of Hoppers Colts for more than 20 years as part of a team who brought through internationals Steve Borthwick and the Sanderson brothers.
The game between a Malcolm Alden XV and rugby chairman Bill Bailey’s XV kicks off at 1.30pm on Boxing Day and admission is £5.
Hoppers: Jordan; Baines, Russell, Woof, Allen; Zavallis-Roebuck, Kindred; Mabaya, Mills, Morton, Tomlinson, A Murray, Napier, Lees, Taylor. Replacements: Holmes, Madden, Walker, Reddick, M Murray.
Fylde: Spragg; Dorrington, Briers, S Rawlings, Brennand; Johnson, de la Harpe; Birchall, Burtonwood, Lewis, Griffiths, G Rawlings, Robinson, Stewart, Beaumont. Replacements: Loney, Vernon, Maher, Bedlow, Arnold.