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Off to the proverbial flyer
By Dave Messenger

How has it been for you so far? Are you firmly in the "so far, so brilliant, we'll be promoted by Christmas" gang or are you a fully paid up member of the "we'll never catch Fulham" club? Whichever it is, the break in the fixtures provides a great time to look back over the season so far.

Let's brush the Worthington Cup games to one side. They are best forgotten anyway. The facts are it's eight wins from nine league games. Fantastic. The goals have certainly been flying in. The welcome return of Gifton Noel-Williams has given us an enviable list of forward players to choose from, easily the best in the division. If an opposition defence can stop GNW and Heidar there's always been Tommys Smith and Mooney and vice versa. With Wooter back in harness and Allan Smart on the way, it seems that things can only get better in the striking department.

Midfield has seen Micah Hyde reproducing his form of the Second Division championship season when his knee has let him. Allan Nielsen has slowly started to impose himself on the team and the division. You can see how much class the guy has whenever he gets the ball and the Smoker has given his normal 110% effort.

The back four have looked good individually, if not always collectively. Ward and Cox have been two or three times the players they were last season. We know what to expect from Pagey and Robbo and we're certainly getting it - unswerving commitment, occasional gaffes and at times some excellent defending. Espen Baardsen looks a bargain, even at the price we paid and Alec has made some super stops while deputising, though he still looks below his confident best of two years ago.

The real bonus in our results so far is that the team has yet to settle down due to the various injuries. We all have our ideas of what the side would be if everyone could get fit. This squad certainly looks as good, if not better, than the rest of this division. The real tests are still ahead of us and, while we have got off to the proverbial flyer, there is no room for complacency.

Fulham are the team to catch. Some people feel they are certain to get stuck in the winter mud but I wouldn't be so sure. Lee Clark and John Collins will scrap and battle with the best of them while Barry Hayles is not exactly averse to getting stuck in. The image of free flowing Gallic flair does not exactly fit with the yellow toothed thug Chris Coleman either. Of the other teams, who can tell? Birmingham were their usual charming selves, Bolton are doing quite nicely thankyou, and WBA and Preston are the surprise packages so far. The rest of the division appears to be pretty average, as ever. There are plenty of teams capable of putting together a good run milling around in mid-table at present and only time will tell if any of them can muster up a challenge.

As with the 97/98 season, it's up to us. We've stolen a march on the rest of the division and if we can keep winning games we could get another crack in the Premiership. Let's make sure we play our part by supporting the lads in the same way as the end of last season. The Vicarage Road support has been a little complacent at times this season. Understandable but not what's required. We can hope for promotion but we can never expect it. The players won't and GT certainly won't.

Neither should we.