Matt Howman: A year is a very long time in football as City fans know
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
What a difference a year makes in football.
A year ago this week we had suffered a 3-0 defeat to Leeds United, clocked just one win in the Championship and had a busy week ahead with a league cup fixture, followed by the first East Anglian derby of the season.
Most fans, including myself, were mentally preparing ourselves for another mid-table season, albeit with slightly more improvement from the previous season… ah, how little we knew.
Fast forward a year and here we are, putting ourselves to the test against the Champions League winners and the Europa League champions, coming away from both matches with an assured sense of optimism; this season is going to be exciting.
What both Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber have achieved in such a short period of time alongside their backroom team has been nothing short of remarkable; I remember being at Birmingham for the first game of last season and watching us struggle to cope with a mid-tier Championship side, fans vocally lamenting the use of James Husband and Ben Marshall at full-backs, Jordan Rhodes occupying the forward role with Teemu Pukki pushed out wide right.
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On that day there was no Emi Buendia in the side, Todd Cantwell sat unused on the bench. No Mario Vrancic, Ben Godfrey, Max Aarons or Jamal Lewis. Of course there were injuries at play but for me putting it in perspective how far our club has progressed in just one year underlines the importance of backing the team this year, no matter what the result is.
And then there we were a week ago, a glorious sunny afternoon at Carrow Road, putting Steve Bruce's Newcastle side to shame as we knocked the ball around with confidence, imposing ourselves like an established Premier League club.
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Moritz Leitner was strolling around the pitch like a La Liga maestro dictating the pace of the match and our one and only Pukki, showing the Premier League (and obstinately jealous Celtic fans) exactly what he can do.
Throughout the three games of our season so far, the stand out player that has really shown what a difference a year can make in football is Cantwell. Despite making his breakthrough into the side last year he found it difficult to oust the likes of Onel Hernandez, Marco Stiepermann or Buendia, finding it difficult to get a clear run in the side.
Cantwell was not in the blueprint for Farke's starting XI at the tail-end of last season when we were gunning for the title, so it was surprising to see him on the team sheet as we walked out to a thunderous Anfield for the seasons curtain-raiser.
However, what he has demonstrated in the first three games is nothing short of a glowing advert for Farke's coaching ability. When he first broke into the team you could argue he looked lightweight, perhaps didn't show enough quality in the final ball to keep his place in the starting lineup and needed more time to prepare for what is a demanding role in the way Farke wants us to play.
We are still only in the infancy of the season with a lot of games to play but already Cantwell looks more comfortable on the ball, happy to navigate tight spots on the pitch and is showing that he can help Pukki lead from the front and take the game to the opposition.
For players like Cantwell, Aarons, Lewis and Godfrey they are the lucky ones that were ready for their chance when Farke has come in, who knows what other academy prospects could have made it if they were given the chance? All four have repaid their chance and more, and wherever we are as a club in a year from now you can be sure they will all be better players for the experience.