Cardiff & Forest - genuine promotion candidates?
Cardiff City are second in the Championship with only one point separating the Bluebirds and table-topping West Brom - and manager Dave Jones reckons there is a lot more to come from his team.
Nottingham Forest are currently ninth, but just four points behind the Baggies. Even so, Forest boss Billy is passionately, vehemently, absolutely and totally insistent that his team will not figure in the promotion reckoning this season.
After watching their entertaining and. at times, feisty 1-1 draw at the impressive Cardiff City Stadium on a wet and wintry Sunday evening, I reckon that both teams must be regarded as promotion candidates.
Let's start with Cardiff.
The Bluebirds are the division's highest scorers with 31 goals from their 15 games and watching their attacking threat on Sunday it was easy to see why.
Target man Jay Bothroyd can hold-up the ball if Cardiff choose to go direct but also showed a deft touch and decent pace, at one point winning a straight sprint against Kelvin Wilson and drawing a desperate foul from the Forest defender. He also showed excellent composure for his goal, slotting the ball beyond Lee Camp. The one concern here is that if Bothroyd picks up an injury, I'm not sure they have an adequate replacement for him.
Jay Bothroyd's shot is blocked by Forest defender Kelvin Wilson
Strike partner Michael Chopra is the Championship's leading scorer with 11 goals, but there is more to his game than finishing. He was not scared to drop deep to link play and his movement across the Forest backline unsettled the opposition. Furthermore, with full-time approaching and his team clinging on to a 1-0 lead, he dispossessed a Forest player 25 yards from his own goal. It was a moment that stood out for me because it spoke volumes about his work rate and desire.
Cardiff winger Peter Whittingham had scored in six consecutive games prior to Sunday and both he and Chopra forced several excellent saves from Lee Camp. Cardiff's willingness to shoot was symptomatic of the confidence running through the side. Particularly eye-catching was their goal - a six-pass move that started in the left-back area and ended with the ball in the Forest net. The passing and movement was executed with great skill and speed.
The distribution of central midfielder Stephen McPhail, who unfortunately picked up an injury against Forest, has been impressive this season. His presence has led to a slightly deeper role for the highly-rated Joe Ledley. I thought Ledley had a decent game on Sunday and the midfielder saw a shot cleared off the line.
I wonder whether central defensive duo of skipper Mark Hudson and Anthony Gerrard, cousin of Liverpool's Steven, might lack pace - and Forest striker David McGoldrick certainly troubled them in this department.
But right-back Adam Matthews, 17, has really stood out this season. On Sunday Forest winger Paul Anderson caused him real problems in the opening half but the young defender had the better of their engaging contest after the break.
The presence of Ross McCormack and Gavin Rae on the bench on Sunday also suggests Cardiff have a strength in depth they have previously lacked.
"We have got a long way to go in terms of being stronger as a unit," was manager Jones's assessment as he reflected on his team's start to the season.
"We have got a lot of younger players - particularly in defence. They don't let anybody down in terms of commitment but sometimes there is a lack of knowledge.
"But I am reasonably pleased with the attacking division and our defending."
There is a settled feel to the Cardiff side; a continuity from one season to the next. It was a point Forest boss Davies made when he observed that several Cardiff players remained from his last visit, with Derby County in October 2006.
In stark contrast, Davies spent in the region of £5m in the summer rebuilding his squad, a reflection of the difficulty he had in keeping Forest in the Championship last season after taking over as manager on New Year's Eve 2008.
Davies was frustrated with the attitude of some of his talented younger players last season. You only have to look at Forest boss, blazer and V-neck jumper worn smartly over his shirt and club tie, to understand that he does not tolerate tardiness. He lives in an ordered world of professionalism and high standards - and expects the same from his players.
In March Davies publicly criticised midfielder Lewis McGugan over his lack of fitness but the 21-year-old scored a stunning injury-time equaliser at Cardiff and there are signs that the younger players at Forest are benefitting from the arrival of more experienced professionals.
None fall into this category more than skipper Paul McKenna, who arrived from Preston after 12 years at his home-town club. He is the fulcrum of the side, knitting the play together from central midfield. Davies told me that McKenna's value is was in excess of his ability as a player because his good habits are an example to others.
Forest certainly aren't lacking artillery. Robert Earnshaw, Dexter Blackstock and Nathan Tyson are currently injured but Davies could still call upon McGoldrick, Dele Adebola and Radoslaw Majewski on Sunday. It is a pool of attacking players that I imagine any Championship manager would be happy to have at his disposal.
Wes Morgan holds off the challenge of Cardiff striker Michael Chopra
The visiting team's defence was caught out far too easily at times against Cardiff - particularly distressing was an optimistic header up-field from Gerrard that eluded the Forest backline and gave Bothroyd a run at goal. Davies insists he is working hard with his all of his squad on the training ground and five consecutive victories and two draws from Forest's last seven games suggests his methods are working.
"There is a lot of work and progression needed," reckons Davies, who insists he can see the faults and flaws in his squad every day on the training ground.
"In my humble opinion we are not ready for promotion this season. If we can finish in a mid-table position, it would be a first-class position considering where we have come from."
Davies was sacked months after he took Derby back to the top flight in 2007. It is an experience that clearly hurt. You now frequently read of the manager talking in terms of three-year plans and building an infrastructure that will give Forest a chance of surviving in the Premier League.
But he is an extremely competitive man and has a proven track record at this level having reached the play-off final with Preston before going one better at Derby. The crucial element was that he did it quickly - in his first season at each club.
Despite his protestations I certainly wouldn't discount Forest - not that the Championship is short of promotion contenders.
Almost a third of the season has gone (at frightening speed if you ask me) and just seven points separate the top 12 teams.
Some people think the Championship is the most exciting league in England and the congestion at the top end of the table suggests they might have a point.
But besides Cardiff and Forest, who do you think will figure in the promotion reckoning next April?