Burnley and Derby flying the flag for the Championship
The Football League has two representatives in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup this week as Burnley take on Tottenham and Derby face Manchester United.
"No-one would ever try to pretend there was not a massive gulf between the Premier League and the Championship, but to have two clubs from that division - and two of the game's great old clubs like Burnley and Derby at that - in the last four of a major competition is fantastic," is how BBC football expert Alan Hansen appraises the situation - and that seems pretty accurate to me.
Yet there is little else that currently unites the two Championship sides, as they go into their ties with sharply contrasting fortunes.
Burnley are reaping the rewards of a clear strategy and a bold managerial appointment that is paying handsome dividends.
Derby, managerless and alarmingly mediocre this season, have yet to recover from their disastrous one-season stay in the Premier League.
The Clarets know they cannot compete financially with many of their rivals and have to box clever to thrive. There are no parachute payments at Turf Moor, while Burnley itself is a modest town of 70,000 and the club competes for supporters in a county congested with clubs.
Chairman Barry Kilby, who recently celebrated 10 years at the helm, openly acknowledges that Burnley are to some extent reliant on directors who support the club and are prepared to invest with no guarantees of any return.
I have interviewed Kilby in the past and he is a sensible and forthright man who clearly has the good of the club he has loved since a boy at heart. He must be delighted by what has happened since he appointed Owen Coyle as manager in November 2007.
The club had a lengthy list of contenders to succeed Steve Cotterill - one that did not feature the name of Coyle until the former Bolton player was recommended to Clarets director Brendan Flood by Trotters chairman Phil Gartside.
By coincidence Kilby had a holiday booked at Gleneagles and arranged to meet Coyle, then in charge at St Johnstone. The Scot quickly impressed and saw off several more high-profile contenders to land the job.
The club has implemented a policy of trying to sign young, talented players like Chris Eagles and Martin Paterson - footballers who can flourish at Turf Moor and flourish alongside more experienced professionals such as Graham Alexander. It seems to be working.
Nobody could say the Clarets are not excellent value for their place in the last four because they are a team that play with ambition and spirit.
Danish keeper Brian Jensen, much maligned at times during his career, has been in outstanding form this season but the Clarets are not a defensive team who try to stifle their opponents. They have two excellent wingers in Eagles and Wade Elliott and play an expansive, attractive brand of football.
As Coyle said of his strategy for the first leg at White Hart Lane - "We go there with no designs of being negative."
Coyle, compared by Flood to a young Bill Shankly for his determination and enthusiasm - not to mention teetotalism - has quickly become one of the hottest managerial properties in the Championship and victory over Tottenham would only enhance his standing.
Derby, on the other hand, host Man Utd on Wednesday with Chris Hutchings in temporary charge following the resignation of Paul Jewell.
The Rams have a much bigger fan base than Burnley, a better stadium and - on paper at least - a more experienced and talented squad. But if the Clarets are punching above their weight this season, the Rams have taken some heavy punishment.
The instant return to the Premier League that Jewell promised after their horrific season in the top flight looks unlikely to materialise. They are 18th in the Championship and cup competitions are proving to be a welcome distraction to both their league position and rumours of a takeover at the club.
Derby scraped past Forest Green in the FA Cup on Saturday and have been rewarded with a tie against East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest, now managed by former boss Billy Davies.
It is a thrilling draw for both Derby and Forest, but a late winner at the New Lawn to edge past non-league opponents does not suggest the Rams will trouble Man Utd.
Derby face a team that has already brushed aside one struggling Championship outfit in the last few days. United's 3-0 win against an inexperienced Southampton side in the FA Cup on Sunday was routine. The Rams do at least have experienced players to call upon and Hutchings needs them to show against United when the first leg takes place at Pride Park on Wednesday.
United play Chelsea in the Premier League next weekend and may field a second-string team but even so, do you really think Derby can beat United over two legs?
The prospects for Burnley look better, even though they are also firm underdogs.
Spurs are struggling in the Premier League and have been drawn against Manchester United in the fourth round of the FA Cup. They have reached the last 32 of the Uefa Cup but retaining the Carling Cup looks to be the club's best chance of silverware.
I don't expect manager Harry Redknapp to be caught cold by a team that have already sent three top-flight teams packing.
But Redknapp does have serious injury problems and claims that he cannot select Hossam Ghaly or Gilberto because "the crowd don't like them". The Spurs boss is expected to have a busy month in the transfer market so it might not be a bad time to play the London club.
Coyle himself said after the goalless draw at QPR on Saturday that he "loves the cups" and there are examples through the history of the League Cup that provide encouragement to both Burnley and Derby.
The first final at Wembley in 1967 saw third division QPR defeat West Brom, while two years later Swindon - also a Division Three club - beat Arsenal 3-1.
Sheffield Wednesday defeated Manchester United as Ron Atkinson famously managed the Owls to victory over his former team in 1991.
That was the last time a team from outside the top flight won the competition, although Tranmere in 2000 and Birmingham one year later reached the final while playing in the second tier of English football.
It would be fantastic for the Championship if they had a team in this year's final.
As Hansen said: "Only time will tell if one can advance to the final, but it enhances the reputation of the Championship to have two teams in the semi-final - and its status will increase even more if one can reach Wembley."