Leeds United and Middlesbrough lead the way with 18 points apiece, Marcelo Bielsa’s men occupying top spot on goal difference.
Two points and two places behind Boro can be found Sheffield United, while Steel City rivals Wednesday have overcome a difficult start, both on and off the field, to force their way into the promotion reckoning via four victories and a draw from those last six outings.
The most recent of those came last Saturday via a hugely impressive 2-1 win at Aston Villa. Not only were the Owls full value for the points, but the character displayed after being pegged back by a contender for goal of the season’ from John McGinn bodes well for the challenges that lie ahead.
Friday night’s derby with Leeds is the first of those, as Bielsa takes his table-toppers to Hillsborough on the back of a first league defeat of the season.
Birmingham City inflicted that loss on an afternoon when United were unable to get anywhere near the heights of previous performances under the Argentinian, but captain Liam Cooper is adamant there will be a response amid what is certain to be a pressure-cooker atmosphere under the lights in S6.
“We will put it right,” said the United defender. “We will have a tough week (of training) and we have got a massive game on Friday.
“In this league one thing you don’t want to do is to be getting beat twice on the bounce so we will be looking to put it right.
“We love these games, as do the fans, and they will be with us. We are looking forward to it.”
Bragging rights in this fixture went to Wednesday last term. The season before, however, it was Leeds who did the double over their rivals from down the M1.
In fact, since rivalries resumed following the Owls’ promotion from League One in 2012 there is parity with both clubs claiming four wins apiece and the other four meetings having finished level.
“We must take the positives of the Villa result into the Leeds game,” said Marco Matias, who netted a stunning goal at Elland Road in one of those draws. “We can only focus on game by game, step by step. This is the same for all the individuals and the group as a whole.”