In a First Division that appears more open than for several years there is such a sweep of teams with genuine promotion hopes that more than half the section could probably claim legitimate candidacy even with the season almost a third complete.
Although Wolves, Crystal Palace and Coventry, the leading trio, have a right to be the bookmakers' favourites there are maybe a dozen others whose cases it would be unwise to dismiss, even down to Bradford, whose recent slump has seen them plunge to 16th. Four consecutive defeats on the back of a Worthington Cup exit at Watford has made Jim Jefferies the latest manager fearing for his job. However, with a team still of largely Premiership players it seems inconceivable that Bradford will not recover and Jefferies' insistence that a couple of good results will see them regarded as contenders again is not merely wishful thinking.
For evidence he needs only to look at Birmingham City, who have won three matches out of four since the St Andrews board decided – ahead of his final game – to call time on Trevor Francis. Or Burnley, who led by five points, then went five without a win, but reappeared on the heels of the leaders by ending Palace's winning streak on Tuesday.
Burnley, with a small, low budget squad of whom a high number are the wrong side of 30 years old, would seem an unlikely proposition but it would be foolish to assume they will not have the staying power. They also have a talented midfield player in Glen Little who, at 26, is just reaching his peak. And they have a manager in Stan Ternent who has a gift for making thin resources stretch a long way.
Ternent, a 55-year-old who has been coaching and managing for 27 years after injury ended his playing days, achieved a miracle by taking Bury from the Third Division to the First in two seasons and has come close to improving Burnley's status similarly.
Ternent guided Burnley out of the Second Division two years ago and missed the play-offs for the Premiership by one place last season, spending less than £1 million a year. Should they follow last week's toppling of Palace by inflicting a third consecutive home defeat on Wolves at Molineux tomorrow they would have to be taken as serious challengers.
"When I came here three and a half years ago we were at the wrong end of the Second Division," Ternent said. "We felt that if we could get into the First Division we would set out to consolidate for a couple of years, to try to establish ourselves as a top-half side.
"That remains the target, although having gone close last season, even though it was unexpected, we were disappointed not to make the play-offs. There are sides with a chance almost everywhere you look but there is no Fulham, Bolton or Sunderland which is going to get 100 points. Almost everyone is capable of beating everyone else.
"We haven't got the financial muscle of other teams but we have good, honest and experienced players and we will not be shy of going for it."Reuse content