TOWN star David Mirfin is happy to be staying close to home this Christmas.
The highly-rated central defender, who was returning from a one-match ban to face Southend at the Galpharm today, believes Town have a promotion formula in place.
And he feels the definite proof will surface through the festive programme and a strong second half to the campaign.
Struggling for form going into the holiday period last season, Town's prospects weren't helped by having to make the long trip to Bournemouth between Christmas and New Year.
While gaining a creditable 2-2 draw on the South coast, Peter Jackson's side were beaten at Hull on their return and then failed to win successive home games against Bristol City and Torquay before losing a sensational derby at Barnsley, who were 4-2 winners.
This time, Mirfin is much happier with the holiday schedule, which gives Town the chance to bounce back from their recent mini-blip to put themselves firmly among the frontrunners for promotion from League I.
"The Christmas and New Year games will be a key part of the season," said the 20-year-old, who started the campaign at right-back before switching to the centre of defence.
"We need to pick up as many points as we can from those four games in eight days and then look to press on from there.
"The fact that we are not travelling any massive distances is a big plus factor for us.
"That trip down to Bournemouth last year was not very helpful, even though we got a decent result at Dean Court, and I think that all the lads will feel the benefit of being much nearer to home this time."
Town have a nine-day break leading up to the Boxing Day clash with Martin McIntosh's old club Rotherham United at Millmoor (12.30).
Port Vale visit the Galpharm two days later (Wednesday, December 28) and Town finish the year at Barnsley on New Year's Eve (3.00).
Peter Jackson's 2006 campaign kicks-off back at the Galpharm against Gillingham on Monday, January 2 (3.00).
After that, it's the big FA Cup third-round tie at Chelsea, then there's a visit to Scunthorpe on Tuesday, January 10.
"All the lads look forward to playing at the moment, no matter what the game," added Mirfin, who has become one of the club's most prized assets over the past two and a half years.
"We are very `together' as a squad, whether it's on the training ground day by day or in the actual matches.
"The squad has a great balance, with plenty of homegrown young lads and some very good experienced professionals, and I just feel the formula is right."
Mirfin believes Town gained massive belief from their record-breaking finish to last season when, for the first time in the club's history, they wound up with eight wins and a draw.
That included three successive clean sheets to bring down the curtain as Town finished just a point short of the play-off zone.
Ever since, Town have been determined to make sure this season is marked with automatic promotion or a play-off place at the very least.
"I think we learned a lot in the final couple of months of last season and it did us a world of good," added the Sheffield-born Blades fan.
"The young lads took it all on board and learned.
"We've been able to carry it through to this season for what has been an excellent start.
"Now we just need to build on it and we all believe we can stay right at the top of the table, because we are usually strong finishers.
"We've already had some excellent results both home and away and, when you pick up three points at places like Bradford and Yeovil, it gives you that bit of breathing space for when you have the odd blip like the last two games have been."
Mirfin's own form has been consistently good, although he points to a couple of times when he feels he let himself down.
"I suffered a bit of a dip against Chesterfield away and Swindon at home and wasn't too happy," he explained.
"But since coming back from the injury I had I do feel I've been getting steadily better and I've had a decent run."