NO team finished the Championship season in better form than Blackburn Rovers.
A 12-match unbeaten sequence represented their best league run since winning the Premier League in 1994-95 and ensured they came within a whisker of reaching the play-offs.
Although they ultimately fell two points short of a top-six spot, Gary Bowyer was delighted by the refuse to lose mentality his promising side developed in the run in.
It is a mentality the Rovers boss is confident will remain with them throughout the summer and into the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
And Bowyer recognises they are going to need it as he firmly believes the Championship will be tougher, more exciting and more unpredictable than ever next season.
The trio of teams relegated from the Premier League, Norwich City, Fulham and Cardiff City, will drop down with more than £60m of prize money each stuffed into their back pockets while Wolves will be eager to maintain the momentum they have generated by racing to the League One title.
Bowyer also reckons at least four of the sides who finished below Rovers will come back stronger after disappointing campaigns.
“Finishing as well as we did raises expectations and we’ve got to manage them,” he said.
“It’s a tough division. You only have to look at the fact that we finished above Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Watford, who were in the play-off final last year, and Bolton, who have good resources.
“Those four clubs are just going to get stronger and then you’ve got Cardiff, Fulham and Norwich coming down and Wolves coming back up.
“So it just gets tougher. But it’s exciting as well. Anybody can beat anybody in the Championship and next season it’s going to be even more exciting and tougher by the looks of things.”
Rovers proved towards the back end of the season they have the firepower to trouble any defence in the Championship.
The Ewood Park outfit netted 31 goals in their final 12 unbeaten games and finished the campaign having scored 70 times, a figure bettered only by champions Leicester, second-placed Burnley, third-placed Derby and Watford.
The fact that Rovers conceded 62 goals was less impressive.
But earlier in the season they showed they did so they can be sound at the back with their final tally of 15 clean sheets bettered only by six sides.
Bowyer said: “It was pleasing when we had that run of clean sheets and when we were difficult to beat and resilient.
“I enjoyed that mentality that the players showed.
“Then at the back end of the season it was little bit of scoring goals at will at times as we were that creative and that exciting going forward.
“Now we must try to marry the two together a bit more next season.”
Should Rovers be able to do that then a return to the top flight would not be beyond their reach.
They were given a reminder of what they were missing when they took eventual Premier League champions Manchester City to a replay in the FA Cup.
Although Rovers were ultimately well beaten 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium, Bowyer said: “Going to Manchester City in the FA Cup was a special night.
“It was a little reminder of where this club has been and where this club has got to try and get back to.
“People spoke to me about how we didn’t need a replay but in my head I was delighted with one as it gave my players a taste of playing against world class players again in a fantastic venue.
“Our average age this season has been 24 and that’s one of the lowest if not the lowest in the Championship.
“So the Manchester City match was a massive part of their learning development to take them to a replay was fantastic and it made them better players.
“Yes we got beat 5-0 but some of these things you have to go through and use as a motivation.
“And that will be out motivation next season.
“We’re not going to stop at that and we will work even harder to try and get back to the Premier League.”