We may still live in a world riddled with COVID-19, but the second tier of English football – the league – has come halfway there.
Everyone has now played against everyone except a handful of postponements, and this benchmark provides a reflection opportunity ahead of an exciting second half of the season. While many eyes are on who is up for promotion, some of us romantics like to focus on standout individuals, especially those who hit goals in the last quarter of 2020.
As it stands, there are four prolific heavyweight scorers who are vying to end the campaign as the top marksman; Ivan Toney of Brentford, Adam Armstrong of Blackburn, Lucas Joao of Reading and Teemu Pukki of Norwich.
The quartet are already in double digits for the season and appear to be ahead of their rivals in the division. The question is, who is likely to end up at the top of the pile?
Here, 90 mins analyzes their credentials and chooses a winner at the end of the season.
Current goal total: 13
In 17 games this season, Lucas Joao has scored 13 remarkable goals on just 37 shots. In football terms, he’s been pretty clinical.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at what Joao has been up to this season. During his four-year stint at Sheffield on Wednesday he was hampered by injuries and fans questioning his consistency but there was still a feeling he had talent.
In Reading, that talent seems to be manifesting itself and a strong creative cadre behind him (in the form of Ovie Ejaria, Michael Olise, and John Swift) has shaped Joao to his life.
The injury struck well in December, but his resounding comeback in the 2-1 victory over Huddersfield – a game in which he scored both goals and detonated a thunderbolt from outside the box – showed how important it will be for the promotion of Reading.
If Joao stays in shape he could have a very healthy return goal under his belt once all is said and done.
Predicted number of goals: 24
Current goal total: 16
With his electric pace and razor-sharp aim, Adam Armstrong has long been considered a practical finisher at the championship level, but it’s fair to say that no one saw it coming.
Leading the standings with Ivan Toney leading the goals, Armstrong has scored 16 times in his first 22 games; a leap forward from the 16 he managed throughout last season.
The reintroduction of Bradley Dack, meanwhile, is another bright spot for the 23-year-old. Back on the sidelines after a long period of injury, Dack is not only someone Armstrong can share the attack load with, but also someone he can feed himself with. And that sets out goals – a lot of them.
Predicted number of goals: 26
Current target total: 11
Teemu Pukki, wonder of a season? No chance.
If Emi Buendia has been making headlines off the pitch at Norwich City this season, then he and his teammate Pukki have certainly been co-stars as the Finnish sniper rediscovered the predatory instincts that have served him so well in the game. during his first 18 months in England.
Much like Norwich, he lost his way somewhat in 2020, but with his return team among wins and Pukki back among goals, the Canaries have become clear favorites for promotion and are four points clear at the time of writing.
The last time Norwich came up, in 2018-19, Pukki plundered 30 goals at home. He’s unlikely to hit that number again, but one thing is certain: with Buendia and Todd Cantwell behind him, it won’t be because of a lack of service.
Predicted number of goals: 27
Current goal total: 16
Many Brentford fans feared the worst when Ollie Watkins left for Aston Villa last summer. But in Ivan Toney, it seems they’ve found the perfect replacement.
With his adept bonding play, clever moves, and aerial prowess, Toney can do it all; a complete striker in the Watkins mold. But surely the most impressive aspect of his game this season has been his goals, with the ex-Portsmouth having already scored 16 times as he carries Brentford’s promotion hopes on his back.
Now the supporting cast for the Bees is starting to escalate, evidenced by Sergi Canos’ recent streak in front of goal. Nonetheless, Toney remains on track to eclipse Watkins’ 26 total from last season and if he continues like this, nothing will stop him in the golden shoe race.
Predicted number of goals: 29