Luton Town can move into a playoff position on Friday night with a win over promotion-chasing QPR, but manager Nathan Jones isn't too concerned with the table right now.
The Bedfordshire side have improved their league position in each of the last five seasons, moving from 11th in League Two (or 79th overall in the English league structure) to 12th in the Championship (or 32nd overall), and Jones has been there for almost all of it – barring his sojourn in Stoke.
Speaking to 90min this week, Jones admitted that he'd like his team to be planted in the upper reaches of the table, but said that it's hard to get a true sense of perspective from points tallies until about halfway through the campaign, especially with just four points separating sixth and 15th.
Recently relegated Bournemouth, Fulham and West Brom have all made strong starts to the season, however, Jones insisted there is not a mini-league at the top of the table between the league's elite clubs.
"Neither of the top two have had a bad spell yet, and they will. Very few run away with the Championship," he said
"Financially we can't compete, it's impossible at this point, but we can't see those games as a free hit. They're difficult to beat, and difficult to keep pace with over a season because their greater resources have bought them a certain level of player.
"Over a full season it's more difficult, because they have natural things which get them out of trouble when they're not playing so well – and we don't quite have that."
Luton lost James Collins to Cardiff City over the summer, their leading scorer for the past three seasons, but have replaced his goals with the impact of January signing Elijah Adebayo – whose eight goals in 15 games have been crucial to the Hatters' incipient promotion push.
Adebayo is one of a number of players bought from the lower leagues by Luton, arriving from League Two Walsall as Jones and his team look to make the most of their comparatively limited resources.
"We have a process here. We were a lower league side and we recruited players to get us out of League Two and push on in League One, and you have to recruit very, very well along the way. We recruited James Collins when we were in League Two, and he was a serial promotion winner. We were able to make him better and have him become a Championship striker."
Jones and his staff – along with the club's chief executive – meet every Thursday to discuss that process, identifying targets and planning a development route for anyone who might be coming in the door.
Players like Jack Stacey and Isaac Vassell were brought in and sold on after a couple of successful years, while James Justin was developed through the youth system before his move to Leicester – but the loss of star players hasn't halted the club's momentum thus far. As Jones tells it, that's by a very calculated design.
"We know as we go through the leagues that we're not going to be the biggest spenders, but our recruitment processes are really good.
"When we let James Collins go, his replacement was in the building, recruited and developing alongside him, so when we made that transition it was already in the pipeline.
"Now we're more potent, the fourth top scorers in the league, even though we just lost our top scorer. I'm sure there are a lot of people watching Elijah Adebayo. If we lose him, we already have his replacement in the building, working alongside him."
That structure has also meant that, while some players have moved on, Luton are rarely forced into giving up assets for any old offer. Bids were rejected for Justin and Stacey before they eventually got their moves, with Jones and his team preferring to find the right destination for their departing players to make a further jump in their development.
The plan is deep, detailed and adhered to religiously – but the next big goal on the list is simple. Go into the new stadium at the start of 2024/25 as a Premier League club.
"That's a very bold, very brave plan," Jones admits, "but very realistic. It's not because of our budget, Fulham's budget is more than ten times ours, but it's about the work that's ongoing, the recruitment, the belief we have. We're not a fly-by-night club, we don't want to be a yo-yo, we want to get to a level, establish ourselves, no trapdoors, then move forward."
Not too many clubs have made it to the top flight without splashing at least a bit of cash in recent years, but Luton remain content to spend within their means for the time being – by being clear about what they want.
Every player is meant to be the complete package, but there's one non-negotiable. Echoing Wolves' technical director Scott Sellars' words at last week's Premier Sports Conference, Jones insisted that every player in the door has to be a 'good human being', with no character flaws.
The intention for this season was to be 'more front-footed and athletic', and plans were put in place a the start of the year.
"We needed to add a certain level of athlete, and a certain level of player. We managed to do that," as Jones put it.
"We can't get that certain level of athlete and certain level of player who are automatic Championship players because they're out of our budget, so if we want pace, athleticism, talent, and someone who creates something then we'd want to go and sign [Arnaut] Danjuma.
"Well he's £20m, we can't afford that. What we do is, with the greatest of respect, we sign Carlos Mendes Gomes and Fred Onyedinma, who are not at the level of Danjuma yet but have that pace and power that he does, and we'll give it structure."
Luton face QPR on Friday night, live on Sky Sports Football.
For more from Chris Deeley, follow him on Twitter at @ThatChris1209!