In case you hadn't heard, Reading are fourth heading into the international break. Yes, fourth. After all the upheaval and uncertainty of the last few years, Jaap Stam has come in, brought fresh ideas, galvanized a squad going through the motions, and lifted them to a playoff spot with over a third of the season gone.
Each match comes with new challenges but the Dutchman seems to guide his team through, arguably emerging stronger with each passing week. Whilst it looks like some task to catch Newcastle and Brighton, whose points tallies and goal differences are far superior to anyone else in the division, Stam has got this team competing, and competing well.
Talking of competing, our Player of the Month awards have tended to be something of a non-competition in the last few years, with one player rattling off a number of wins in a row. This season, the competition is hotter than ever - testament to the fact that Stam has got everyone playing well at the same time. John Swift took August's award, Liam Moore was your pick for September, whilst Ali Al Habsi was the overwhelming choice in October. That's not even to mention Garath McCleary, who's arguably in the best form we've ever seen in his time at the Madejski.
Meanwhile GetReading's Charles Watts has been running a mini-poll on Twitter to see who your Player of the Season is at this early stage - again, there's no standout candidate, because everyone has upped their game with the arrival of Stam. To have so many players on form and impressing is a real credit to the Dutchman and his staff, who have turned around a declining team with a few new additions, and sparked fresh life and belief into the Reading fanbase.
And a special word for Al Habsi and the back line, who have now kept three straight clean sheets in the league for the first time since February 2016. The Royals' most convincing win of the season came last Saturday as we came away from Wigan with a 3-0 win, but again it was a shutout from the back five which really set the platform for victory (as well as Garath McCleary's early double, of course!). After a few early wobbles, the team looks solid and confident enough to win every game.
Whilst the Royals do find themselves in a rich vein of form, it's important to take the past three wins in context. As it stands, Rotherham, Nottingham Forest and Wigan Athletic are three of the bottom five in the Championship table, woefully out of form - even a mid-table side would be hoping to pick up three points against those sides. The league match prior, the Royals hosted an Aston Villa side that hadn't won away in nearly 400 days, and duly ended that run!
So whilst we do sit fourth, and we've won our last three games, it's still perhaps a case of tempering expectations because far bigger tests are on the horizon. Seven of Reading's next nine Championship games come against fellow top-half opposition - we'll have a greater idea of just how much Stam has progressed this team come January.
As we keep mentioning in this column, Stam is still earning his stripes as a manager, and despite the tactical advancement he's still made a number of questionable decisions in the past couple of months. Throwing Liam Kelly in for an away match at Rotherham ended up with the youngster being subbed off after half an hour - proactive from the manager to recognise his mistake, but many Royals fans questioned his selection in the first place against such a physical side.
Meanwhile there's the ongoing question of who starts on the wings. Despite his indifferent recent form, and despite the growing calls for Dominic Samuel to be given his chance, Stam persisted with Roy Beerens until Saturday's win at Wigan. Beerens started on a tear at the Mad Stad, impressing everyone with his skill and trickery - now it's up to Stam to get him back to the levels we saw earlier in the campaign.
And whilst we can't deny how important Ali Al Habsi has been this season, there's a reason he's looked so good - because he's had to! According to WhoScored, the Omani has made 57 saves so far, the second most in the division; the law of averages will tell you that number will eventually catch up to him. Despite dominating possession in most games, we still allow too many shots on goal - that's something that will need to be worked on as the season progresses.
So how do you feel about Stam's time at Reading so far? Let us know below - 5 is highest, 1 is lowest.