Home and Away
Three wins in a row within the context of some meaningful additions to the squad, has even had some fans (including me) daring to look up to Blackburn in 6th place, just five points away.
Indeed a glance at the league table more generally reveals a rather extraordinary statistic:
We have played only one of the bottom half teams at home (namely Barnsley).
Given that we have played eight League games already, this is rather surprising.
The observation is slightly self-fulfiling because our home form has been so poor (only 8 points from 8 games) and thus 14 points have 'leaked out' of The Valley into the points total of the sides we have played, thus aiding their League position.
Putting this slight bias to one side, it remains true that the average current League position of the 8 teams we have played at home is just 6.5.
Meanwhile the average current League position of the 9 teams we have played away from home is 16.4, almost ten League positions worse.
It is worth noting that the most 'extreme' possible version of this effect (ie. if our home games had all been against the top 8, and our away games had all been against the bottom 9) would only give an average League position of 4.5 and 20 respectively, compared to 6.5 and 16.4 actual.
Meanwhile the observation shows little sign of letting up with the teams sitting in 7th and 8th place currently (Brighton and Huddersfield) visiting The Valley between now and Dec 8th.
The extent of this odd distribution of fixtures is perhaps best represented optically via the current League table (with teams we have played at home and away represented in red and blue respectively):
There are a few potential conclusions one might be able to draw from this seemingly important observation.
Firstly, it is not surprising perhaps that our home form has been poor. In short, we have played the best teams.
However the key question (which ultimately will dictate where we finish the season) is whether our materially better away form is simply explained also by the polar opposite (ie. we've played the poorest teams), or whether we are also inherently better equipped tactically to play away from home.
If the answer rests more with the latter then the conclusion is quite optimistic.
Notwithstanding the fact that we simply don't play as well at home, we should pick up proportionately more points because the opposition will be worse.
Likewise, whilst the current heady rate of points accumulation (15 from 9 games) will likely degrade to some degree, the team's inherent strengths on the road should nonetheless keep the points total ticking over nicely.
Cue a realistic push for the play-offs.
If the answer however rests more with the former, then we may be in for a nasty shock despite sitting pretty right now.
As the quality of opposition away from home improves, the pressure on the impressive defence proves too much (particularly given our ongoing problem with keeping possession).
Meanwhile the inability to break teams down consistently at home remains, regardless of weaker opposition. Fans get frustrated and nervous as a result, impacting the players.
Cue a worrying flirtation with the relegation zone.
My personal view is that the optimistic conclusion is more likely.
Even discounting for weak opposition, I think the away form (particularly defensively) is too good to be explained away so easily.
Nine goals conceded on the road is the joint best in the division after all, and it's been achieved with arguably the team's best player (Wiggins) missing for the majority.
Indeed regardless of which conclusion one draws, it is likely that the squad available in the remaining 29 games will be stronger than that available in the 17 so far (as injured players return and reinforcements play a part).
Things may be about to get very interesting.