Norwich City's hopes of re-signing Ched Evans until the end of the season received an unexpected boost last night as another of Manchester City's teenage strike prospects returned to front-line duty with a bang.
Evans returned to Carrow Road earlier this month on a second, 'emergency loan' deal – a one-month arrangement with City boss Sven-Goran Eriksson that gives the Eastlands club the right to recall the player at any point after February 6.
Norwich boss Glenn Roeder revealed at the time of the young Welshman's re-appearance that he remained hopeful of agreeing a window-to-window loan deal with Manchester City – something that would have to be put in place before this month's January transfer window slammed shut on the 31st.
All parties recognised that for that to happen, the Premiership club would need to strengthen their own forward line first.
And with the Swede, thus far, drawing a blank at the New Year sales, so the fear was that Evans' second spell in Norfolk could prove short-lived.
However, help may be in hand in the shape of 18-year-old front man Daniel Sturridge who marked his return from long-term injury last night in spectacular style – grabbing a hat-trick in City's 3-1 FA Youth Cup fourth round win at Reading.
All of a sudden and Eriksson and his No2, Hans Backe, have another teenage hopeful on their hands; Evans may well be allowed to stay precisely where he is.
“Danny has only trained back with us about eight or nine times so far,” Backe told the club's official website, after Sturridge – nephew of Midlands' strikers Simon and Dean – made such a spectacular return following a major hip operation in the autumn.
The youngster already has two first team appearances to his credit – last season, to boot. All of which made him one rung above Evans in the pecking order this time last year only for that nagging hip injury to intervene.
And while the City management team were clearly going to ease the teenager back into the first team fold gently, they now have another option on their hands.
“He's been away for around six months and it'll take time for Sturridge to be back,” said Backe. “But he's a very, very talented player and we have seen what he can do when he's on the ball.
“He definitely has a possibility (of featuring in the first team this season) if he goes on like this and keeps free from injury. When you've been away for six months you can pick up a hamstring injury very quickly, but if he can train regularly with us, I would not be surprised if he played some games for us.”
Speaking before his hip operation, Eriksson himself was well aware of Sturridge's name.
“I have never seen him play but I have heard a lot about him,” the Eastlands boss, told the Manchester Evening News last year. “I have been told that he has pace and is a big talent so I will wait and look forward to seeing him in action.”
All of which should come as something of a relief for Roeder, as the dark and dangerous politics January transfer window continues to bedevil his best intentions.
The prospect of a window-to-window deal for Evans and the news of Darren Huckerby's swifter-than-expected return from that niggling hip injury has been about the best this week has been able to muster.
West Bromwich Albion were the latest club reported to be intent on hi-jacking Norwich's long-time interest in Blues centre-half Martin Taylor. However, Carrow Road sources today played down that prospect – well aware that at this time of year, many a game is being played. Particularly among those whose interest it is in to jack a player's price up on the basis of their being more than one interested party.
And as frustrating as it is for all concerned, Roeder is far from alone in finding himself becalmed before next week's impending storm. Despite having armfuls of Marcus Evans' cash, Town boss Jim Magilton has thus far only been able to add ?400,000 Alan Quinn to his armoury as Town's chase of Plymouth's David Norris takes as many twists and turns as the Taylor chase.
Even at the top end of the market – at the Eriksson level – the market is proving no easier to crack as Manchester City find themselves linked to everyone from Djibril Cisse to Dean Ashton. Sevilla's ?9 million striker Luis Fabiano looks less than keen; the return to fitness of Emile Mpenza has helped as City prepare for their FA Cup fourth round clash with Sheffield United this weekend.
“January is a difficult transfer window,” said Backe, a sentiment that would be shared with managers up and down the country. Agents, however, just love it, just love it…
“Most of the time you get players other clubs don't want, but if you want to go for the top-class players, a lot of them are still in European competitions,” added Backe.
“You can't just buy for the sake of it – you have to find the right player if you are going to buy, otherwise you have to wait until the summer. We will not buy an average player just to bring someone in.”
Words that could have come from Roeder himself.
Evidence that Theo Walcott will not be gracing The Championship anytime soon came in the form of Liverpool's reported interest in the Arsenal teenager after Arsene Wenger hinted that the 18-year-old England starlet may be best served with a loan spell; more plausible is a chance to shine on Tyneside where the Kevin Keegan revolution would lap up a player of Walcott's ilk.
Nor are Newcastle likely to put much of a dent in Arsenal's title challenge as Liverpool.
All of which will leave Roeder, Tony Pulis and Co scrabbling around for those further down Wenger's list.