Nick Miller takes a look at the Sky Bet Football League in his monthly column.
Steve McClaren was a happy man after Derby's comprehensive 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend, and rightly so.
"This was one of those happy Saturdays when everything you have done in the week works out the way you want it," McClaren said, invoking the spirit of Hannibal from the A-Team. "There were times when it was simply beautiful to watch.
"We had to earn the right to play our football by standing up to a side we knew would be direct and physical and once we established our superiority we were terrific.
"The quality of the football for the second and third goals was fabulous and it all stemmed from having the right balance and attitude."
It's been going pretty well for Derby since McClaren returned to the club in September, and he was working his own particular brand of magic even before his first game. McClaren wasn't officially in charge when he descended from the stands at half-time of Derby's game against Ipswich, entering the dressing room to try and sort out the mess that left his new side 4-1 down. Whatever he said worked, as they defied logic to come back and draw the game 4-4.
Since then, Derby have lost just once (away to QPR), recording impressive wins against Watford and Wednesday, gradually climbing from the nether regions of the Championship to within touching distance of the play-offs.
There was surprise and no little consternation after Derby dismissed Nigel Clough in September, straight after their defeat to Nottingham Forest. Most believed Clough deserved more time and that he had done a good job with limited resources, but the obituaries were a little generous. Clough did indeed have to cope with budgets being cut and players being sold, but there aren't very many managers in the Football League who don't have to deal with such fiscal realities. Derby were a lower mid-table Championship club when Clough joined in 2009, and were a lower mid-table Championship club when he left. When just about waving rather than drowning is the best a manager offer after four years in a job, it's not something to brag about too loudly.
What Clough did manage to do was stabilise Derby after the mess left by Billy Davies (although it's slightly unfair to blame him given that he was basically sacked for being too good at his job, getting a clearly unready Derby promoted in 2007) and Paul Jewell. He brought through youngsters such as Mason Bennett and Will Hughes, the hugely talented midfield who probably won't be at Pride Park for much longer.
He left behind a fairly solid squad too. The less said about Connor Sammon the better, but Lee Grant and Jamie Ward are two of the most underrated players in the division, Craig Bryson provides great energy from midfield and Hughes will be in the Premier League before too long. Clough basically did the groundwork for someone else to build on.
And building on it is exactly what McClaren is doing. It would be quite the redemption story for McClaren if he manages promotion with Derby this season, given that it would be something close to a second resurrection in his managerial career. After his reputation was washed away, umbrella or none, following failure with England, he went abroad and won the Eredivisie with FC Twente, hailed as a great coach despite the accent.
He then failed at Wolfsburg, lasted three months at Forest and failed on a return to Twente. He would have been forgiven for retiring to the country with his pay-off money, whiling away the days by tending to his peninsula of hair and the odd punditry gig. McClaren instead chose to join Harry Redknapp's coaching staff at QPR, then when the Derby job came up, he was back on the horse. Or, perhaps more accurately, the ram.
McClaren has been written off, reappraised then rewritten off so many times down the years that any objective assessment of his career is almost pointless. However, with Derby as well-placed as anyone for a play-off run, this season could well be another high in a roller-coaster career.
It's happening. It's finally happening for Bristol City.
After relegation last season, this campaign started calamitously for Sean O'Driscoll's men, winning not one of their first 13 games, picking up just six points in the process. A jumpier chairman might have pulled the lever on the managerial trapdoor, but the faith was finally rewarded a couple of weeks ago when they recorded their first win of the season, against Carlisle. They followed that with a solid draw at home to Oldham, and another win, over Crawley, this weekend.
Those three games have featured five goals from Jay-Emmanuel Thomas, the former Arsenal striker who, to put things mildly, still divides opinion. However, his main backer appears to be O'Driscoll, who described himself as Thomas' 'biggest fan and biggest critic' recently, but he certainly seems to have faith in his striker's ability.
Thomas said after the Crawley victory: "I'm able to roam wherever I think I can cause the most damage and I just sway from left to right and get on the ball as much as I can. It's nice to have that freedom, but I have to make sure that, when I get on the ball, I make the best use of it."
It takes a manager pretty firm in his convictions to, while staring down the barrel of successive relegations, still indulge the talent of a mercurial player he believes has something.
If City build on this short run, then both the club and O'Driscoll's patience will be rewarded.
Another chapter is written in the peripatetic career of Peter Taylor. After temporarily taking the reins at Gillingham, following the rather abrupt sacking of Martin Allen last month, Taylor was confirmed as the Gills' permanent manager this week.
That makes it, by our reckoning, his 12th permanent club gig, along with spells with assorted England youth sides, a one-game stint as the full national manager and a brief sojourn with Bahrain a couple of years ago.
Some people just like to wander. Some people just like a challenge. At Gillingham, he at least has that.