Getting ahead: Yorkshire’s early-risers can profit from promising start

Huddersfield Town head coach David Wagner (Picture: Tony Johnson).
Huddersfield Town head coach David Wagner (Picture: Tony Johnson).
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MOST managers, when pressed, will insist it is too early in the season to read too much into the league table.

Garry Monk has gone so far as to order his Leeds United players not to discuss the subject but, even allowing for this understandable desire to keep feet firmly on the ground, the portents are largely looking good for Yorkshire’s Football League contingent.

Of our eight representatives, half are currently occupying either an automatic promotion or play-off place while Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United are, if not quite hammering on the door of the top six, then certainly making their presence heard.

The last time this was the case on the first day of November was in the 2012-13 campaign, when no fewer than half a dozen White Rose clubs could be found in the all-important promotion berths in their respective divisions.

And that campaign ended with Hull City, Rotherham United and Bradford City going up. Sheffield United, sitting second in League One four years ago today, also reached the play-offs.

It was a similar story in the other three campaigns since the turn of the Millennium that the penultimate month of the year has dawned with four or more clubs from the county occupying a play-off berth or better. Of those, 2003-04 proved the most productive with Doncaster, Hull and Huddersfield Town all going on to win promotion from the basement division.

With the clocks having gone back last weekend, the big question for the county’s football fans is whether any of the current high-flyers can go on and emulate those successes of the past.

Huddersfield are the county’s highest-placed Football League side, a 28-point haul from 15 matches having left David Wagner’s side sitting third in the Championship.

It is a remarkable turnaround from a year ago, when the Terriers, then in the final days of Chris Powell’s reign, had exactly half their current points total and the challenge was to stay clear of trouble.

Now, the focus is very much on the race for the Premier League but three defeats in four outings suggests Town are no longer the surprise package of the division.

Teams are now ready for the gegenpressing system that Wagner brought with him from Germany and are approaching clashes with Huddersfield accordingly.

Ryan Fredericks, Fulham’s right-back, said as much in the wake of Town’s 5-0 thumping at Craven Cottage by revealing the pre-match instruction had been to take Wagner’s men on at their own game.

“Huddersfield are a good team,” said Fredericks. “But we were on them and didn’t give them a second to breathe. We didn’t give them a chance to do anything with the ball.”

Therein lies the challenge facing the Terriers in a division where Newcastle, Brighton and Norwich possess the quality and strength in depth required to make a sustained challenge for the top two – and then there are another dozen or so who can realistically eye the play-offs.

Wednesday and Leeds join the Terriers in the latter category.

The Owls only sit outside the top six on goal difference but this is a season that, after going so close last time around, is yet to truly spark into life.

The midfield, despite significant investment, looks no stronger than last season and misses the drive of Sam Hutchinson, who has been switched to a defence that has proved to be vulnerable at set-pieces.

That said, Wednesday invariably possess a bench capable of making things happen and this strength in depth plus Fernando Forestieri, on his day as close to unplayable as the Championship has, should make the play-offs.

Leeds are bidding to do the same and their recent form has been excellent.

But there remains a nagging suspicion that Chris Wood can be left too isolated against the better teams with the trio of attacking players behind the lone front man unable to provide sufficient support.

A test of that will come in the next few weeks with Norwich, Newcastle, a resurgent Aston Villa and Brighton among United’s next five opponents. If Leeds can emerge from that tough run with their play-off hopes intact then other sides really will start to sit up and take note.

In League One, Bradford and Sheffield United are good bets to last the distance and finish, at worst, in the play-off places.

However, if Billy Sharp stays fit all season, the Blades may well avoid what has proved to be an insurmountable barrier over the years and instead go straight up.

As for the last of the White Rose quartet riding high right now, Doncaster Rovers have suffered a couple of stumbles lately but it would be a brave punter who backed against Darren Ferguson’s men finishing in the top three.