Mick McCarthy was honest on Saturday in admitting that he coveted the services of Chris Wood. Many coaches in the Championship must feel the same about Tammy Abraham, the prolific Bristol City striker who already looks like the find of the season.
Wood, according to McCarthy, was widely-admired when Leeds United signed him last year, a forward with time and ability on his side and a strong reputation in the Football League.
Abraham is different; 18 years of age and little-known before Bristol City took him on loan from Chelsea in August. But their respective form is so compelling than neither Garry Monk nor Lee Johnson would be tempted to swap man for man.
The players will share a pitch at Ashton Gate tonight, with Wood on seven goals and Abraham on 10 after both chipped in again during weekend wins over Ipswich Town and Fulham. Abraham’s strike rate is unmatched in the country, showing double figures after 12 appearances, but Ipswich boss McCarthy was not the only person who saw a classy centre-forward in Wood on Saturday.
United midfielder Kalvin Phillips said the 24-year-old – much criticised in the opening fortnight of the season – was in a frame of mind where there was “no stopping him”. The forward has scored two more goals than Derby County so far and 20 in his last 48 games.
“He’s the main man,” Phillips said. “We’ve got Marcus (Antonsson) who’s in good form as well but there’s no stopping Chris when he is form like this.
“He’s level-headed and obviously he doesn’t show that he’s proper buzzing but you can tell that he is.”
Antonsson, United’s Swedish forward, was named by the club as their player of the month at the end of August.
For Wood, the early part of the campaign was more of an ordeal, starting slowly and resulting in friction between him and the crowd.
His overhead kick in a 1-1 draw with Fulham, his first league goal of the season, came at exactly the right time, just as pressure on him was threatening to get out of hand.
“It’s been tough for him,” Phillips said. “Before that Fulham game he was getting a bit of stick but he’s always training hard and let’s not forget there are other players out there who can score goals.”
Bristol City are applying those rules in reverse to Abraham; reminding everyone that while the teenager is already sat on 10 goals, he is not alone in delivering results like their 4-0 win at Fulham on Saturday.
That crushing victory, against a side who came close to passing Leeds off the field at Elland Road last month, laid the ground for a fascinating game at Ashton Gate tonight.
Lee Johnson, City’s manager, believes Abraham – an England youth international and an imposing presence at 6ft 3ins – is good enough to make Chelsea’s current squad, despite the Premier League club releasing him on a season-long loan.
Like Wood, the youngster is something of a poacher with four of his seven league goals taken from inside the six-yard box and none scored from long range.
He has recovered from a dead leg suffered against Fulham and will be firmly on the radar of Pontus Jansson and Kyle Bartley this evening.
“The world is his oyster,” Johnson said. “He can do anything he wants. He could go into Chelsea’s team now, no doubt about that.
“The test will be, does he keep his feet on the ground?”
Lee Tomlin, Bristol City’s experience playmaker, echoed those thoughts last week, saying: “He has to think about how he gets his goals and realise it’s because 10 other players are helping him. It’s not just all about him, me or any other individual.
“Tammy’s not going to run past 10 players to score a goal. He needs to be given the ball in the box.
“He’s doing really, really well but he has to be careful that he doesn’t get above his station.”
Monk would say the same of his squad, even after four straight victories.
Only Norwich City in the Championship are on a hotter streak and Leeds have crept into the top half of the table on the back of an impressive run. Bristol City lie 10th and are a point better off.
United’s 2-2 draw at Ashton Gate last August, the third league game of the 2015-16 season, was part of a five-game unbeaten sequence under Uwe Rosler but a grave disappointment nonetheless.
Having led 2-0 through Wood and Mirco Antenucci, Rosler’s side conspired to concede twice at the very end of the game, once through a near-post finish from Kieran Agard and again when goalkeeper Marco Silvestri pushed a soft parry to the feet of Aden Flint.
The night ended with a dispute over six minutes of injury-time.
Phillips, who played in that fixture, said: “We started really well and it was all down a lack of concentration at the end of the game. (Tomorrow) is a different story though. We’ve got a newer team and we’ve won four games on the bounce. So why not go there with confidence?”