When Tony Mowbray first turned up as the West Bromwich Albion manager, Richard Chaplow was nowhere near the first-team picture and few people had heard of a fellow called Robert Koren.
It was October, Albion were in transition, and uncertainty hung in the air like a cloud. Within weeks, Ronnie Wallwork was sent on loan to Barnsley and Nigel Quashie was transferred to West Ham United.
Albion lacked an obvious holding midfield player and, despite boasting some of the finest defenders in the Coca-Cola Championship, were conceding goals at an alarming rate.
With talk that Mowbray was going to sign a defensive midfield player during the January transfer window, the manager himself had a better idea: do without one and make sure that the men he calls "artists" developed the attributes of "soldiers".
Koren, a Slovenia international, ostensibly a creative player, arrived on a free transfer and impressed with his stirring work ethic. And then Chaplow was handed a first-team place with a mission to dictate the pace of the Albion midfield.
In what seems no time at all, Albion look more secure at the back, more dynamic in midfield, and now the team are as capable of winning ugly as they are of winning beautifully.
There is, at last, a three dimensional look about Albion.
"A big positive for me is the way that Richard Chaplow has shown a great maturity in his play," Mowbray said. "My impression of Richard, when I arrived at the club, was that he was a forward-thinking, forward-running, goalscoring type of midfield player.
"And yet, he has managed to adapt his role and use his magnificent athleticism and quick feet to help the team. He is never going to be a crunching tackler but it is good that he can cover the ground so quickly, close players down, and stop teams getting at us so easily.
"We have always had the talent to score goals and win matches, we were just too vulnerable and weak defensively because opponents were going through our midfield too easily. Richard has given us that added protection by adapting his game.
"We should also mention Robert Koren, who has come into the team and impressed with his amazing work ethic. According to the ProZone figures, last week in the game against Plymouth Argyle, he covered more ground than any other player in one match this season.
"When you have players covering more ground like this, you become more difficult to beat. When I arrived at the club and looked at the players we had, my perception of Richard was one of this driving midfield player. It is great credit to him that he has adapted and played a crucial role.
"He has been playing alongside Jonathan Greening, an experienced and talented player, and I think the balance between those two players has been integral in the successes we have had away from home recently."
In some ways, in Koren and Chaplow, Mowbray might feel as though he has two new signings. When Mowbray arrived, Chaplow did not see much of a future for himself, while Koren's season with Lillestrom in Norway had ended.
"Robert Koren is an international footballer, an experienced footballer," Mowbray said. "He was aware of his own fitness levels when he came here. For the first two weeks, he trained every day and did extra work with the fitness coach.
"One day, he said to me: 'I'm ready'. He had already played two matches at that point. He is aware of what he needed to do and he continues to work hard in training and in matches.
"We knew Robert had wonderful technical ability. The simplicity of his passing is good and the added work ethic, as much in training as in matches, has been important. Sometimes players can lift a training session just by their enthusiasm and drive that they show. Robert is that type of personality."
Mowbray, though, says Albion are a work in progress.
"If we steer clear of injuries and suspensions, there is no reason why we cannot continue to win matches," Mowbray said. "We have some crunch matches coming up [Albion are at home to Southampton on Saturday] and, luckily, the majority of those are at home, where we have been pretty good."
Albion have won three successive away matches, giving credence to the view that they have all the properties necessary to mount a serious promotion challenge.
"I don't think it is right to say we have mastered the art of playing away," Mowbray said. "It was always about balancing the team because the balance was not right for a long time."