There can be no argument that Brad Hills' loan spell with Accrington Stanley has been an overwhelming success. 

Having just turned 20 earlier this month, the Norfolk-born defender has played over 40 games, been handed the armband and earned plaudits for his performances. Considering prior to moving to the League Two outfit he hadn't played football away from City, it has gone swimmingly. 

'If you stopped the season after the first half, he would have won the League Two player of the season award easily', a Stanley official said during the Pink Un's trip to watch Hills in action against Sutton United last Saturday. 

Since then, Stanley's overall form has dropped, and Hills has struggled to meet the high standards he has set himself. That dip has still resulted in a very decent level of performance considering this is his first taste of senior football. 

It's partly about context. Long-serving Accrington boss John Coleman and assistant Jimmy Bell were dismissed earlier this month. The play-off dream is all but dead, and although John Doolan has earned a permanent appointment, performances have dipped. 

Those types of experiences will prove invaluable to Hills, who is a figure that commands respect within the Accrington dressing room. 

After taking a seat at the Gander Green Lane and casting an eye towards Accrington's pre-match warm-up, it doesn't take long to spot Hills. He is a towering, commanding figure, perhaps an apt comparison is that of Christoph Zimmermann. Even during the pre-match routines he is getting messages across.  

Hills is tall but muscular, and his physical output isn't clunky. He wouldn't describe pace as his prime quality, but neither is he slow—as documented when he kept pace with Sutton winger Nino Adom-Malaki with ease. 

The biggest compliment that Hills can be paid is that he doesn't look like a player or person who has just turned 20. Underpinning his performance, even when not at its best, is a maturity that is rare to witness in younger players. 

Whether it was barking orders at experienced right-back Kelvin Mellor or setting up his side to defend a corner, there was no fear in marshalling the troops. That is why Accrington's coaching team have shown no hesitation in handing him the armband on two occasions this term. 

There have been flashes of immaturity throughout the campaign, recently it was a needless red card at Colchester a minute into the second half for a swinging elbow. That is the type of incident that shows their is further refinement to come. 

The Pink Un: Brad Hills has enjoyed a productive loan spell at Accrington Stanley.Brad Hills has enjoyed a productive loan spell at Accrington Stanley. (Image: PA Images)

But beyond those rare episodes, Hills has impressed those internally at Accrington and is a popular figure among a fanbase who champion hard work and grit. 

This particular contest saw Hills wrestle with ex-Millwall striker Harry Smith. He dealt with that threat effectively, aside from one slip-up for the opening goal. The other goals came from a corner and a fine strike from range. 

Hills is capable of withstanding the blood and thunder nature of matches at this level. This was a game where spells of possession were few and far between, but the Norwich-born defender rolled up his sleeves and mucked in. 

One element that requires further assessment is his distribution, but Saturday's contest was not geared toward witnessing his qualities with the ball at his feet. 

He has been helped by having Norwich teammate Lewis Shipley alongside him this season. Despite the full back not being able to capture the form or consistency that Hills has managed, both have played a major part in their plans. 

All of that begs the question - where does Hills stand ahead of a summer return to Norwich? 

At this stage, Ben Gibson and Danny Batth are out of contract and likely to move on this summer, so there will be at least two defensive vacancies to fill before conversations about Grant Hanley's future begin. 

City have earmarked one of those slots as being contested between Hills and Jonathan Tomkinson, who has impressed during a spell at Bradford, with Jaden Warner and Emmanuel Adegboyega also under consideration. 

Then, it will be down to Hills to impress during those early pre-season training sessions and friendly matches. When asked about the prospect, he admitted to relishing it. His character is not one to be fazed by the opportunity. 

If it does come too soon for Hills at City, then another loan would be likely. That would be at least to League One level, given his proven qualities in the fourth tier with Accrington.

The Pink Un: Brad Hills has enjoyed life on loan at Accrington Stanley from Norwich City.Brad Hills has enjoyed life on loan at Accrington Stanley from Norwich City. (Image: PA) 

Another factor for the City to monitor is that Hills will enter the final 12 months of his City contract this summer. Given his acceleration this season, talks over an extended stay are likely to kick off swiftly. 

But he has just turned 20. To be as consistent and impressive as he has been this term is a testament to his development. But there has been no complacency but a hunger to keep pushing, learning and growing as a player and a person. 

Hills is desperate to play for his boyhood club, and when he returns this summer, everything will be in his hands to make that a reality.