Connor Southwell: The key ingredient behind City's success this season
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Last season, Norwich City received plenty of criticism about the manner of their Premier League relegation.
Daniel Farke came out swinging in response to those who critiqued how his side were losing matches but regardless of any disagreements, there could be no hiding how deflating and exhausting their form was after Project Restart.
They were a wounded animal, and teams were loading heavily armed vehicles and taking shots from all ranges. The majority hit the target and Norwich were just waiting to be put out of their misery.
A losing mentality was seeping into their group and it was difficult to imagine how they would reverse a ship that had lost all direction and was treading water at an unsustainable rate.
Most clubs would have sacked their head coach and started afresh. Most clubs would have eaten into their parachute payments and spent big chasing the dream. Norwich are not most clubs.
These things come to test us. And it was the time where their belief in the project would be measured.
Fast forward six months and Norwich sit 10 points clear at the top of the Championship having just dominated their closest contenders in a match that graphically illustrated why they are returning to the Premier League.
- 1 MATCHDAY RECAP: Dowell stunner puts City on cusp of promotion
- 2 Paddy's Pointers: Five observations from the Canaries' spirited 1-0 Championship win against Derby County
- 3 Premier League here we come for City chief Farke
- 4 EFL announce revised schedule to avoid Prince Philip funeral clash
- 5 Farke makes a pact with City squad
- 6 'Our only concern' - Farke reveals City's promotion roadmap
- 7 Farke on Canaries records, Rooney and respecting the Rams
- 8 City boss too busy to worry about his contract at the moment
- 9 Spud Thornhill: Early days, but can City break that promotion record?
- 10 Dowell the difference at Derby as City close on promotion
Last season, one hit on the jaw was enough to leave them sparked out on the canvas. Now they can absorb multiple punches and then win a bout with a single blow.
Two years ago, their success was about entertainment. Underpinning everything they did was the desire to score goals. They scored their way to the Championship title and left everyone else in their wake.
But they conceded goals at an unsustainable rate.
After promotion, their inability to defend resolutely hampered their chance of retaining their Premier League place. It wasn't Farke being an ideologist; he didn't have the tools as a coach to alter their style.
When Stuart Webber and his recruitment team set out their plans for the summer window after relegation, it was crystal clear the type of footballers they wanted to attract.
Objective one revolved around physicality. Norwich were outmuscled and outfought in the top flight. By having a particularly technical side, they had small players. Tom Trybull lacked the energy to cover the pitch in the manner City required. Mo Leitner wasn't physical enough to win a midfield battle.
There was a disequilibrium that ran through the core of the side. Losing had become a habit and reinforcements were needed.
Variety was the second requirement. That led to Jordan Hugill and Przemek Placheta's arriving. This was a City side being built with the intent of developing a ruthless streak.
There is an argument to say that this City side is less enthralling and isn't as relentlessly fun as two seasons ago, but Farke's current group are devastating for their opponents, intelligent and ruthless.
Third was energy. We are witnessing a subtle changing of the guard in midfield. No longer is Alex Tettey the go-to man to see out a game. Now it's Jacob Sorensen.
When the season is through and people reflect, they will speak about Emi Buendia's genius or Teemu Pukki's innate ability to score goals, but they will also speak about a spine that contains real quality.
Let there be little doubt, if this current troupe faced Farke's class of 18/19, this side would win.
In the original version Blur song 'Parklife' that used to be converted into a chant about Farke's title-winning heroes, there is a line that utters 'It's got nothing to do with Vorsprung durch technique', but that contrasts with City's progression on the pitch. They have advanced through technology and have been shaped by their experiences to date.
Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley are the most commanding and intelligent defensive pairing Norwich have had since Craig Fleming and Malky Mackay. Ollie Skipp and Kenny McLean have injected energy and athleticism to create a functional midfield that supports both phases of play.
Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell have the X-Factor and Pukki enables it all with his graft and clinical edge in the final third.
Quietly, the ambition inside the walls of Colney last summer was to build a Championship side better than two years ago. This is a Premier League side operating in the second tier. They are levels above their opponents and that is why some supporters are speaking about the prospect of a 100-point season as a genuine possibility.
It's not arrogance that flows through this Norwich side, it's a willingness to win. A relentlessness to be the best. Even after Wednesday's victory, attentions inside the camp turned to the next one. There is no time to pause.
And that is the key to their success; ruthlessness and efficiency are elevating them to greatness. Not only will that bring success in the short term, but it will provide better foundations to survive in the Premier League next season.