IF DECEMBER is the most wonderful time of the year then January is certainly the most testing.

That’s not just for those trying to shed the excess pounds or climb back on the wagon after the festive excesses.

Football clubs up and down the country view this month with a mixture of anticipation and dread – mostly the latter.

Phones don’t stop with recommendations for the next best thing guaranteed to fire your team up the table. Or they suddenly don’t get answered when you are trying to make a genuine move.

And all this while simultaneously trying to maintain things on the pitch without heads in the dressing room inevitably being filled with this or that rumour.

City, more than most, are in the firing line for the next couple of weeks.

The need to boost David Hopkin’s current options for the on-going survival fight is obvious if the momentum gained over the last month is not to fall away.

But against that, the Bantams are also trying to shed a lot of the excesses from a recruitment programme that remains a hand brake on any forward progress.

Stefan Rupp has committed financially to covering the mistakes that Edin Rahic made in the summer – a costly investment considering the sizeable loss the club are expected to have run up.

The promise of backing Hopkin through January may be as much about propping up a wage bill that remains among the top six in the division.

It does mean the mid-season transfer window has become a juggling act between ins and outs. Any expenditure needs to be balanced where possible by savings through the exit door.

City have allowed Shay McCartan - under contract until the end of next season - to remain with Lincoln’s League Two promotion push for the rest of this camapaign. That’s a decision to be made another day.

Omari Patrick is back from his stint at Yeovil but Hopkin is still making up his mind on whether to involve the raw striker or send him back out on another loan.

His absence from a weak bench at Barnsley on Saturday was no big surprise. Should Patrick come on for even one minute, that would prevent him going elsewhere because of the league’s limit on players featuring for only two clubs in a season.

Meanwhile, City are anxiously ticking off the minutes until midnight in the hope that Huddersfield will not be back in touch over Jack Payne or Lewis O’Brien.

The cut-off point for a recall is fast approaching and losing either would represent a hammer blow.

But again, the fact that City agreed on a deadline with Huddersfield set for two days after the one with Lincoln over McCartan highlights the lack of logic about so much of the pre-season business.

Why run the risk of leaving yourself short of numbers because the dates haven’t tallied? Hanging on to Payne would, for many, feel like a new signing after it appeared increasingly likely that he would be going back to the Premier League side to be sold elsewhere.

But even once the clock ticks past midnight, City’s worries on that front may not be completely done.

While technically there is no recall from tomorrow, that would not stop the likes of Millwall or whoever from upping their reported interest in the midfielder.

Should someone come back with an offer that Huddersfield are willing to take, then City would face the dilemma of whether to stand firm by the letter of the law – and risk an unhappy player denied a bigger move and possibly jeopardising any future relationship with their neighbours.

As it stands, Paudie O’Connor’s arrival last week took City up to the maximum five loans permitted in the 18-man matchday squad. Bringing in any more would mean somebody having to be left out completely each week.

There is the possibility of freeing a space by turning David Ball’s deal into a permanent one – a tactic City adopted a few years ago with Jamie Proctor when they had similarly maxed out on borrowed players.

But parent club Rotherham may have the option of a further year in his contract and that could potentially muddy the waters.

As for full-time recruits, targets must be persuaded to join a club whose League One status is far from assured - never an easy sell at this stage. There are plenty of balls in the air.