50 points at least needed for Scunthorpe United to ensure safety says manager Brian Laws
"I CAN cope with the despair, it's the hope that kills me," so said comedy actor John Cleese, in the film Clockwork.
A fitting place to start a look at the twists and turns of a League One relegation battle that has, at times, carried the surrealism of a Monty Python sketch.
Hartlepool United were the dead parrot – eight points adrift at the foot of the table as recent as six weeks ago – before a run of five wins in seven games, one of them at Glanford Park, cruelly lifted belief.
With transfer embargoes, financial worries, changing their manager and the vast majority of their squad, Bury seem to have faced everything but the Spanish Inquisition.
A breakdown of what has gone on so far though would suggest that Scunthorpe United are one of six sides looking to avoid finishing in the fourth and final relegation spot.
Entrenched in the drop zone, crisis club Portsmouth are all but down – with a 10-point deduction looming when, or seemingly if, they ever come out of administration. They are already 11 points behind the Iron.
Pools remain seven points shy of safety, with 10 games of a potentially enthralling climax of the campaign to come. But it's hard to see them making up that figure now. Similar applies to Bury.
So what will it take to ensure Scunthorpe steer clear of trouble?
Cleese's quote is certainly applicable to the Iron's season.
Yet the fact they even have hope is testament to a much improved second half of the season – during which they have lost four times in 12 games – which may turn out to be their saving grace.
There are suggestions, given the recent revivals of relegation rivals, that 50 points, the holy grail for sides chasing survival, may not be enough to guarantee a place in League One.
Brian Laws, the Scunthorpe United manager, is not a subscriber to such a theory.
"We know we've got an objective and in that objective we've got 10 games and we need to at least get to 50 points to assure us of survival," he says on the subject.
"I'd be very surprised if it goes beyond that. History tells you that. But you want to get as many points as you possibly can.
"It's going to be very tight and I do believe it will go to the wire.
"I said it when I came here and I haven't changed my thoughts on that.
"The teams all around us are winning games and there's a nervousness about the division at the moment.
"Anybody can beat anybody on the day – that creates the excitement of the league."
Nervous excitement, for sure.
What goes on in the mind will determine what happens on the pitch during a run-in sure to contain many twists and turns.
Laws is correct when he refers to the history of previous seasons.
In the past 10 years, only Torquay United, in 2005, have been relegated from the third tier having picked up 51 points.
Yet relying on the past is no way to shape the future, something that Laws acknowledges when talking about recent form: "You can't live off what you've done."
The Iron have averaged 1.05 points a game during the three-quarters of the campaign so far.
Crucially, though, that figure has been 1.5 points during 2013, a rate which, if they were to continue for just seven more weeks, would see them close the campaign on 53 points. Safety assured, surely?
Scunthorpe are two points clear of Oldham Athletic, the side currently fourth bottom, with the Latics' FA Cup exploits leading to a small backlog in more familiar competition.
They have two games in hand, at Preston and a home game with Yeovil, but neither is played until early April, by which point the story may be completely different. Timing is everything in football.
Still being led by caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk, after the pressure of the club's plight told on previous boss Paul Dickov, Oldham at least have the knowledge that their future remains in their own hands.
Of their 12 outstanding games, they face five of the current bottom eight.
Interestingly, games against Bury (next Tuesday) and at Preston in a few weeks are Scunthorpe's final ones against sides also fighting for survival.
Look at respective run-ins and the Iron have some tough-looking tests, including three games against teams chasing automatic promotion and another couple who harbour outside hopes of the play-offs.
Shrewsbury Town, who have steered clear of the bottom four for most of the campaign, but now appear to be being sucked in, have a potentially season-defining last couple of matches – away at Colchester and home to Portsmouth.
How they react to suddenly being drawn into a battle, should it occur, will be key for their manager Graham Turner, League One's most experienced boss.
Be it in the press box, or the terraces, it is impossible not to be drawn into the fortunes of others. Technology means it is as easy to watch the ever-changing league table on a Saturday afternoon as it is what goes on on the pitch.
It is not something though Laws says the Iron will get caught up in.
"It is the only way because otherwise it starts to affect your judgement," observes United's manager, calmly.
"You start thinking about teams you can't affect.
"We're focusing completely on ourselves and on trying to catch the teams above us, to try to drag more in."
With unpredictable results seemingly to come, likewise further twists and turns, the best way to take in the final throws of the dice is by expecting the unexpected.
Or as John Cleese might say: "And now for something completely different..."