Hyder Jawad looks back over a remarkable season for Steve Bruce and Birmingham City.
There are few men who can handle a crisis better than Steve Bruce. In a season that has seen Birmingham City lurch from one predicament to another, the manager has exuded composure and humility.
In some respects, the 2006/07 campaign has been the club's history in microcosm. And through it all, Bruce absorbed the criticism and turned it into energy. The smile, ubiquitous and endearing, was always genuine.
If Birmingham win away to Preston North End on Sunday, they will secure the Coca-Cola Championship title - easily the most significant achievement in their 132-year existence.
And yet, this was also the season of self-destruction; the season of their dodgy pitch, which was dug up twice and caused the postponement of their match against Leeds United in January; the season when Bruce temporarily fell out with his employers.
This was the season when the club sold Matthew Upson against the wishes of Bruce; the season when Damien Johnson aroused the ire of the supporters; the season when some supporters mocked Bruce with a song of "you don't know what you're doing".
Birmingham is a club in a perpetual state of crisis. It is part of their appeal. It might even be part of their plan. Rare are the times when St Andrew's has been a bastion of harmony.
What matters most is the end result and, in that regard, the club has enjoyed a successful season. The Premiership beckons. So does the extra wealth - about £40 million from television rights alone - that comes with promotion to the English game's elite division.
But it is Bruce who has come out of this best of all. A year ago, with his reputation in tatters, and Birmingham pondering life outside the Premiership, he set about organising a revolution.
There was not even the pretence of quiet contemplation or patience. Bruce ripped up one squad and, having dispensed with the overpaid underachievers and those who had merely reached the end of their Birmingham careers, he replaced it with another.
Gone were Mario Melchiot, Kenny Cunningham, Emile Heskey, Jermaine Pennant, Jiri Jarosik, Jamie Clapham, Stan Lazaridis and Nicky Butt. In their places came younger, hungrier players - those with whom the supporters could identify.
The summer of 2006 saw Bruce at his best. Realising that the years of waste had done the club little good, he set about fashioning a team that could not only regain promotion, but that could also excite the fans.
Bruce brought in Stephen Kelly from Tottenham Hotspur and went to Arsenal to sign three players on loan - Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastian Larsson and Fabrice Muamba. Also arriving was Cameron Jerome, a speed merchant, from Cardiff City.
But Bruce also needed experience so he turned to Bruno N'Gotty, an accomplished defender with a better past than future, and Radhi Jaidi, a Tunisian international centre back.
The season began in early August, Birmingham performed well, but Bruce realised there were pieces missing in the jigsaw. Bendtner and Larsson provided flair, but Bruce wanted a midfield player who could score goals and increase the pace.
Enter Gary McSheffrey from Coventry City for £3 million, perhaps the finest deal of Bruce's season.
Hard to imagine, then, that Bruce flirted with the sack. Flashback to October 17, 2006, when Birmingham played Norwich City at St Andrew's. This was the night when Bruce had what Christians might call an epiphany.
Not only did Birmingham perform badly, but they they also looked disinterested. They lost 1-0 and were jeered off the pitch, but that was the least of Bruce's worries. The morning after, he woke up to the radio phone-in shows that added to the feeling of negativity.
It seemed as though not only had Bruce lost the support of the Birmingham directors, but also of the supporters. A defeat away to Derby County four days later would surely have spelt the end of Bruce's career with Birmingham.
Bruce made changes, opted for more experienced players, and watched in delight as a speculative shot by Stephen Clemence - one of those players brought back into the team - secured a victory. It was a pivotal moment.
Birmingham won 11 of their next 13 matches and, by the start of December, Bruce was able to celebrate his fifth anniversary in charge of the club. Still Bruce was not satisfied. January came and he emphasised the need to sign new players and make changes.
Rowan Vine, a striker, arrived from Luton Town. The talk was that Bruce only signed Vine to stop the player from going to West Bromwich Albion. That is fanciful, but it said much about the rivalry that had developed between the two clubs.
January was a strange month for Bruce and for Birmingham. They lost their momentum and then feared that the postponement of their match against Leeds, scheduled for January 13, might cost them a large fine or even the deduction of points.
A week later, the match away to Leicester City was postponed because of gale-force winds.
Results in the Championship took a bad turn. Birmingham lost to Ipswich Town and Southend United.
How ironic, amid this most trying of periods, that Birmingham should produce one of the finest performances in their history. They went to Newcastle United for an FA Cup third-round replay and won 5-1.
Among those who eulogised over the performance was Matthew Upson, the England international defender, who was constantly linked with a move to other clubs.
Bruce wanted him to stay, but the board were not so sure. At the end of the month Upson was sold to West Ham United for £6 million.
On the face of it, selling an injury-prone player, who did not even want to play for Birmingham, at a significant profit was a good deal.
Bruce did not see it that way. His authority had been undermined and, for the second time in the season, his relationship with the board took a turn for the worse. Enter David Sullivan, the club's co-owner, who used the programme for the match against Stoke City on February 11 to suggest that, because of dwindling attendances, some Birmingham supporters did not deserve promotion.
Forgotten, it seemed, was the perception that £29 to watch Stoke on a cold Sunday morning did not equate to value for money.
Birmingham won the match 1-0, but the supporters were not convinced. When Bruce made a substitution, a large minority of the fans sang "you don't know what you're doing". Apparently, those supporters wanted Damien Johnson to be substituted, but Bruce kept his captain on the pitch.
Birmingham plodded along, grinding out results and making an art out of winning 1-0.
Easter brought two defeats and suddenly the feelings of October started to resurface.
This time Bruce was better able to deal with the setbacks. Birmingham were not yet the best team in the division, but they were arguably the most versatile.
That is why they were able to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 on April 22. It was the day when Colin Doyle, the young goalkeeper, saved a last-minute penalty to ensure the victory.
Birmingham were not officially promoted at that point, but that was the day when it finally felt as though they were of Premiership stock.
They beat Sheffield Wednesday last Saturday and, when Derby lost to Crystal Palace the day after, Birmingham's promotion was confirmed.
It was April 29, 2007 - a year to the day since they drew 0-0 at home to Newcastle United to ensure relegation from the Premiership.
This particular Sunday afternoon was littered with irony for the first Palace goal was scored by Clinton Morrison, one of Bruce's first signings when Birmingham reached the Premiership in 2002.
Birmingham's reputation as the biggest club in the division counted for nothing. If they wanted to climb out of the Championship, they had to fight their way out. That is obligatory.
But they go into their match away to Preston on Sunday with the luxury of knowing that they are moving forwards. A victory will secure the title and they will all sit down and plan their next step.
The summer of 2007 will be just as significant for Bruce. Birmingham are sure to learn the harsh lessons of their first spell in the Premiership. But will Bruce be around to benefit?