Glenn Roeder's season tonight took a large turn for the worse after the Canaries officially confirmed everyone's worst fear – that Dejan Stefanovic would be sidelined for the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.
The 34-year-old Serb twisted awkwardly as he challenged the visiting Stephen Elliott in the opening minutes of Saturday's home clash with Preston North End. From his immediate reaction, it was evident almost instantly that the long-time Portsmouth favourite was in trouble as he crumpled to the floor in the centre circle.
Once Canary physio Simon Spencer had urgently called for a stretcher, so you knew that Stefanovic's recovery – be it ankle or knee – would be measured in months, not weeks.
Tonight and that fear was duly confirmed; the only point that Roeder cleared up was that it was knee, not ankle.
“He has been to see a specialist and had a scan and, unfortunately, he has ruptured cruciate knee ligaments which will need an operation in the next two weeks,” the Canary chief confirmed on the club's official site this evening.
The Serb's exit was followed before the break by that of the on-loan Frenchman Antoine Siberski; he, too, will be out with a knee injury though the City boss was hopeful of seeing the on-loan Wigan striker again at the City Ground, Nottingham, in ten days time.
“The Preston game was marred by injuries to Stefanovic and Antoine Sibierski,” Roeder told the club site.
“Sadly the news surrounding Dejan is more serious than we first thought. This is clearly a long-term injury and a massive blow to the club and Dejan personally.”
Roeder refused to give a precise timetable to his recovery time until after the surgeons had done their work. That said, most would reckon on at least six months for a ruptured cruciate which with the very fairest of winds would put Stefanovic's return back to the beginning of May.
Which then becomes the start of August and the new season with a full pre-season under his belt.
“Until the surgeon has completed the operation it's difficult to assess how long he will be out for,” said Roeder. “But obviously with this kind of injury you are talking about a lengthy delay.”
Short-term and he at least has two, natural centre-halves in John Kennedy and Gary Doherty; he also has Elliot Omosuzi as cover with the on-loan Fulham youngster expected to have shrugged off his recent hamstring strain in time to feature, if needed, in this weekend's home clash with Swansea City.
After that, however, and the cupboard is all but bear. Ex-City skipper Adam Drury stepped across into the middle for the Derby County clash and was, to his credit, performing well until David Marshall's late moment of madness.
The real alarm bells ring in the New Year when Kennedy is due to return back north to Celtic. Whilst Gordon Strachan's men appear to be doing perfectly well in his absence, it would appear at this stage to be highly unlikely that the would-be Scottish international is granted a longer stay in Norfolk.
Norwich have done their bit in providing the final, competitive rehab after those three, long years in the injury wilderness – the Bhoys faithful will want to see their hero back in their midst for the final charge to the SPL title.
As for recalling Troy Archibald-Henville back from Spurs, that too now looks an unlikely turn of events given that Roeder admitted his arrival was “a mistake” at this week's Annual General Meeting; that those whom he trusted at White Hart Lane were wrong to insist that their Reserves skipper was ready to make the step up to the Championship.
Politically if nothing else, it would be difficult now to return to the player with all concerned knowing that he had been effectively written off as too young; too raw; too inexperienced.
Likewise Jonathan Grounds appears a non-starter – the accomplished young Middlesbrough defender was recalled early by Boro boss Gareth Southgate to provide extra cover for his own injury crisis. That he continues to do – he was on the bench for last weekend's surprise win at Aston Villa. He's not about to be let out to play again.
Which then leaves Roeder little or no option but to play the loan market again and add a tenth to his pack – or else keep his fingers firmly crossed that Queen's Park Rangers' reported interest in ex-Canary Academy keeper Joe Lewis is genuine and that a sell-on windfall might be his this January.
The England Under-21 keeper is a hot property; for all Barry Fry's bluster about not selling his best players, the Posh supremo will wheel and deal as always and maybe, just maybe, the Canaries might get a shot in the arm financially.
Otherwise, it will be down to the match-making skills of the Keith Harris' and Amanda Staveleys of this world to pull the Canaries out of the fire; to find that precious investor to ride to the rescue of both the club and its principal shareholders, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones.
The one person who might have a wry smile on his face tonight is, of course, Jason Shackell who was eased out of the team this summer to accommodate Stefanovic's switch from Fulham on a two-year deal.
Once Wolves came a-calling with a ?500,000 offer, Shackell was eased out of the club altogether – not that he was unduly complaining either given the four-year deal that awaited him at Molineux. He now sits at the top of the Championship and watches Norwich flounder around in the bottom six – and all without 'the leader of men' bought to replace him.
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