A DOUBLE Elgin City suspension setback has jolted boss Gavin Price's preparation for a tough festive fixture programme.
City's next four games are all against promotion rivals including three away trips, starting with Saturday's visit to new League 2 leaders Montrose.
A week on Saturday the Black and Whites are on the road again to face Stenhousemuir where they will be without two key players. Brian Cameron and Darryl McHardy are both banned for the Ochilview match, meaning Price will be forced to reshuffle his pack.
The manager will also lose Lewis Strapp at the end of December with the Championship side refusing to extend the teenager's loan into 2018.
"I've spoken to (Morton manager) Jim Duffy and explained that Lewis has been excellent for us. But they want him back in their squad.
"We've got him for three more games and I think we will need him with the suspensions coming up."
After Montrose and Stenny, Elgin return to home soil to face recent leaders Stirling Albion on December 30, before kicking off the new year with a trip to title favourites Peterhead on January 2.
They drew 1-1 at home to Edinburgh City on Saturday, only avoiding defeat by virtue of Jordan Allan's last minute equaliser.
The Moray side will welcome back full back Matthew Cooper to their squad this weekend. The former Caley Thistle defender has missed the last six games with an ankle injury.
Former Lochee United centre back Aaron Whitehead will also be a signed City player in time for the Peterhead trip, while striker Shane Sutherland is hoped to be ready for a playing comeback sometime in January if his recovery from a cruciate operation remains on course.
Any further transfer raids by Price could hinge on whether or not striker Bruce Anderson is reclaimed by Aberdeen from his loan spell.
Until then, Elgin must tackle a gruelling run of games head on. Manager Price believes the remaining matches of this year could determine his team's credentials as play-off contenders.
"We have to try and pick off these next three games and give it everything before the end of the year and see where it takes us.
"It could be season defining results or games. Are we going to mix it with the top boys or are we going to be struggling mid-table and looking over our shoulder?
"If we're to treat this positively we need to show that we are in that group of clubs that are wanting to fight for the top four."