We may still be living in a COVID-19 riddled world, but the second tier of English football – the Championship – has made it to the halfway stage.
Everyone has now played everyone, barring a handful of postponements, and that landmark provides an opportunity for reflection ahead of an exciting second half of the season. While many eyes are turned to who is contention for promotion, some of us romantics like to focus on the standout individuals – notably those who have been banging in the goals during the final quarter of 2020.
As it stands, there are four prolific heavyweight goalscorers who are in the running to finish the campaign as leading marksman; Brentford’s Ivan Toney, Blackburn’s Adam Armstrong, Reading’s Lucas Joao and Norwich’s Teemu Pukki.
The quartet are already into double figures for the season, and look to be streets ahead of their competition in the division. Question is, who is likely to finish top of the pile?
Here, 90min analyses their credentials and picks out a winner come the end of the season.
Current goal tally: 13
In the space of 17 games this season, Lucas Joao has scored a remarkable 13 goals from just 37 shots taken. In footballing terms, he’s been rather clinical.
We perhaps shouldn’t be surprised by what Joao has been able to do this season. During his four-year spell at Sheffield Wednesday, he was hampered by injuries and fans questioning his consistency, but there was always a feeling that he had talent.
At Reading, that talent appears to be coming to the fore, and a strong creative framework behind him (in the form of Ovie Ejaria, Michael Olise and John Swift) has got Joao in the form of his life.
Injury did strike in December, but his resounding return in the 2-1 win over Huddersfield – a game in which he scored both goals and cracked home a thunderbolt from outside the box – showed just how important he’ll be to Reading’s promotion push.
If Joao stays fit, he could have a very healthy goal return under his belt when it’s all said and done.
Predicted goal tally: 24
Current goal tally: 16
With his electric pace and razor-sharp aim, Adam Armstrong has long been regarded as a handy finisher at Championship level but it’s fair to say nobody saw this coming.
Leading the way with Ivan Toney at the top of the goalscoring charts, Armstrong has netted 16 times in his first 22 games; a quantum leap from the 16 he managed throughout the whole of last season.
The reintroduction of Bradley Dack, meanwhile, is another positive for the 23-year-old. Returning to the side after a lengthy spell out through injury, Dack is not only someone with whom Armstrong can share the attacking load with but also someone who he can feed off. And that spells goals – plenty of them.
Predicted goal tally: 26
Current goal tally: 11
Teemu Pukki, one-season wonder? No chance.
If Emi Buendia has dominated headlines off the pitch at Norwich City this season then he and teammate Pukki have certainly been co-stars on it, with the Finnish marksman having rediscovered the predatory instincts that served him so well during his first 18 months in England.
Much like Norwich, he lost his way somewhat in 2020, but with his side back amongst the wins and Pukki back amongst the goals, the Canaries have emerged as clear favourites for promotion and are four points clear at the time of writing.
The last time Norwich went up, in 2018-19, Pukki plundered home 30 goals. He is unlikely to reach that figure again but one thing’s for sure: with Buendia and Todd Cantwell behind him, it won’t be because of a lack of service.
Predicted goal tally: 27
Current goal tally: 16
Many Brentford fans feared the worst when Ollie Watkins departed for Aston Villa last summer. But in Ivan Toney, it appears they found the perfect replacement.
With his adept link-up play, smart movement and aerial prowess, Toney can do it all; a complete striker in Watkins’ mould. But the most impressive aspect of his game this season has surely been his goals, with the ex-Portsmouth notching 16 times already as he carries Brentford’s promotion hopes on his back.
Now, the Bees’ supporting cast are beginning to step up, evidenced by Sergi Canos’ recent hot streak in front of goal. Nevertheless, Toney remains on course to eclipse Watkins’ tally of 26 from last season and if he carries on like this, there will be no stopping him in the race for the golden boot.
Predicted goal tally: 29