League One has an unexpected side in the top three and Hartlepool's Graeme Smith is loving every moment.
Wadsworth's men buzzing with the best
It's been a great time to be a Hartlepool United fan in recent months.
The final game of 2010/11 saw the team eke out a respectable 0-0 draw at the Valley (a game most memorable for the group of 80 or so Poolies identically dressed as Oompa-Loompas) to round off a season that most fans saw as satisfactory, 57 points, 16th place and relegation never a serious worry.
Mick Wadsworth had whipped the team into better shape after succeeding Chris Turner & progress was apparent to the average fan. With some obvious candidates to be released and a few well-placed signings, we might be a decent League One outfit.
Within a week, the club had announced a fantastic season ticket offer, £100 adult tickets if 4000 sold, and the buzz started. The message boards were alive and the queues started forming at Victoria Park as fans took advantage of the possibility of home games for under a fiver.
There was very little that the club did wrong PR-wise over the summer. Nobby Solano was the big name signing that kept news of the ticket offer in the public eye, and when sales started to slow when approaching 3000, the club tweaked the offer to a guarantee a maximum of £150 for a season ticket regardless of numbers sold.
The queues over the next two weeks were almost constant, building to a crescendo on the 15th July deadline, and over 5700 fans snapped up tickets.
Colin Nish was acquired from Hibs, Nathan Luscombe given an opportunity after a Stadium of Light release and ex-loanee James Poole was signed after Man City decided his wage demands weren't high enough or something. As a whole the squad looked leaner and better than in 2010.
Four consecutive draws was an unusual, but solid, start and considering that included games with highly-fancied MK Dons and Huddersfield, it wasn't a bad return for most pundits' relegation certainties. The four wins since then have Pools unbeaten after eight games, their best start ever, and it has those self-same pundits fumbling to find the necessary adjectives.
The only downsides so far are a penalty shoot-out defeat in the Carling Cup, a 1st round exit in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, and a slightly frustrating habit of throwing leads away on the road, but hardly the stuff to have the fans frothing at the mouth and gathering outside the club offices with pitchforks & lighting torches.
Adam Boyd's four goals hopefully signals a return to the player we so worshipped in 2005, Nish has notched three times as he slowly adapts to the demands of League One and Poole has grabbed three from the bench. Suddenly a team who were almost devoid of goals from strikers last season are firing.
Add in a pretty reliable defence, recently boosted by the addition of free-agent Stephen Wright and who knows what can happen in 2011/12, especially if the strikers keep finding the back of the net.
As an experienced Poolie, I'm not going to predict promotion, but there is a possibility we can interfere with the play-off shake up in the style of Orient, Exeter & Rochdale last year and who knows what from there?