With nearly a third of this season’s Championship fixtures already played, usually by this point in the campaign the table has begun to take some sort of shape.
Of course, there’s the dark horses who’ll string a late run of results together and come from nowhere to grab a late play-off spot, but the league’s frontrunners have already been well established.
However, in typical 2020 fashion, this season’s second tier alumni appear to be doing this a little differently.
Bar a few stragglers at the bottom end of the table, you could throw a blanket over the entire league, with the position of top spot exchanging hands multiple times throughout each gameweek.
So, with no team looking like ‘running away with it’, whose early-season performances have them best placed for a promotion tilt? We’ve compiled a list of the teams who look set for a Premier League charge, ranking them by the likelihood that their season will end in glory.
Stoke’s summer business would have been fantastic – if it were 2012. The signings of Steven Fletcher and John Obi Mikel certainly left heads being scratched, though, in fairness, they’ve started the season well.
Michael O’Neill’s squad boasts a number of stellar names, and with Nick Powell and Tyrese Campbell both looking sharp in front of goal, if they can overcome their current goalkeeping crisis which has forced them to bring in two emergency loanees, they could be in good shape for a promotion push.
Tony Mowbray has proven to have the credentials to get a team out of the second tier, though – ironically for a manager who used to be a centre-back – his team’s defensive frailties may come back to haunt them.
In Adam Armstrong, Rovers boast the Championship’s top scorer, and if Mowbray can address his leaky defence they’ll definitely be a threat.
8. Bristol City
Consistency seems to have become Bristol City’s biggest worry this season. The Robins notched an impressive four wins from the first four games league games of the season, then embarked on a five-game winless run, only to then win the next three on the bounce. You never quite know what you’re going to get with Dean Holden’s side!
The relentless Championship schedule means consistency is key, and so – despite sitting fifth in the table - their sporadic performances so far this season are cause for concern. However, if they can string a good run of results together at the right time they’ll be in with a shout of promotion.
Of the three sides relegated from the Premier League last season, Bournemouth endured arguably the most upheaval, with Eddie Howe departing and the spine of their team being ripped out.
Despite a number of high-profile departures, the Cherries have managed to keep hold of a number of quality players, many of whom have experienced Championship life previously, and that experience should see them in good stead for the remainder of the campaign.
There are some managers who – regardless of how thin their squad may look – can never be written off.
In little over five months, Neil Warnock has transformed Middlesbrough from a team who couldn’t stop leaking goals under Jonathan Woodgate and looked destined for a spell in League One, to now boasting one of the meanest defence in England’s top four divisions.
Boro’s Achilles heel is their attacking output, but with the likes of Yannick Bolasie openly expressing his desire to join the club in the summer – only for the deal not to be completed in time for the deadline - if the Teessiders can make it through to January still in touch with the top six, some shrewd business in the market could see them in with a great shout of promotion.
Many expected Brentford to struggle to adapt to life post-Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins, however, it’s the other end of the pitch causing the Bees problems this campaign.
Thomas Frank’s side had the second-best defence in the league last season, yet have already conceded as many as Sheffield Wednesday who sit four points adrift of safety.
The summer acquisition of Ivan Toney has proved something of a masterstroke, with the former Peterborough man already well into double figures in the league, and if they can shore up defensively they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Swansea have absorbed the loss of Joe Rodon brilliantly, though the effect of being unable to entice Rhian Brewster back to the club on loan seems to have had a much bigger impact.
Nevertheless, with the best defensive record in the division they’re always going to be in the mix, and if Andre Ayew can better last season's tally of 15 league goals, Swansea could be in business.
The curious case of the Royals.
Having finished just eight points above the drop zone last season, Reading stormed out of the blocks this campaign. winning seven of their opening eight games.
Their form took many by surprise, however, in truth it shouldn’t have. The additions of Ovie Ejaria and Tomas Esteves in the summer added to a squad already containing some top players like Lucas Joao and Michael Olise, and with new boss Veljko Paunovic adding some much-needed defensive discipline the Royals looked a completely new team.
Since their brilliant start the wheels have fallen off slightly, but after a run of four straight defeats they've managed to stop the rot, and they’ve got the quality to be in the mix next May.
Having kept hold of a number of stellar names over the summer such as Ismaila Sarr and Troy Deeney, many expected Watford’s strike force to overpower the rest of the league, but it’s been quite a different story.
Manager Vladimir Ivic seemed to have taken the opposite approach, making the Hornets tough to beat early on in the campaign as they conceded just one goal in their opening four league games. Since then the shackles have come off a little, though naturally that saw them become more fragile at the back, with two late winners notching them back-to-back 3-2 wins.
The new boss looks to still be feeling his way into the job as he searches for the right formula, but once it clicks their star-strewn squad will be a match for anyone.
Norwich boast one of the biggest and best squads in the Championship, although in truth they need it right now. The Canaries could field a strong starting XI made purely of injured players, but Daniel Farke’s side continue set the pace at the top of the league.
The club made a number of shrewd moves over the summer, keeping faith in Farke – the man who masterminded their promotion in 2019 – and adding tried and tested Championship players like Jordan Hugill to their arsenal.
Once their injury list begins to wane, the introduction of five permitted substitutes each game will be a huge boost to a team whose squad is littered with quality second tier players, and that could prove to be the difference come the business end of the season.