City boss Glenn Roeder was this morning breathing one, large sigh of relief as Reinforcement No1 for the New Year arrived over the horizon in the shape of young Middlesbrough defender Jonathan Grounds.
For after his initial loan spell this autumn was cut short by Boro boss Gareth Southgate due to his own injury crisis, Grounds has now been given the green light to return to Norfolk for another, two-month loan spell.
The left-sided centre-half and full-back will – in theory – be a Norwich player until March 7. In practice, Boro will still have the right to an immediate recall once his initial 28-days is up, but for now all the Canaries are worried about is having someone to stand alongside Gary Doherty at Bramall Lane this weekend.
That aim has now been achieved as Roeder takes some of the pressure off the likes of Elliot Omosuzi and Ryan Bertrand – both of whom have been feeeling the pace of a full-time career in the Championship trenches.
And while Grounds, 20, is hardly much older, he will at least come to the crease this weekend that much fresher and that much less war-weary than the two, teenage full-backs whose loan spell in Norfolk is proving such a tough mental and physical test.
“I'm absolutely delighted to be able to tell supporters that we've managed to get Jonathan Grounds back to Carrow Road for the next couple of months,” Roeder told the club's official website this morning, as he made his first move of note in this month's transfer window.
He would also readily admit that there was, indeed, a large gaping hole in that department since the injured John Kennedy returned north of the border and, more importantly with regard to having a natural left-sider in that position, Dejan Stefanovic disappeared for the season with that serious knee injury.
“It's a position that we've known we've needed to fill with Gary Doherty being the only fit, natural centre-half currently at the club,” admitted the City chief, as he looks to bolster his numbers ahead of this weekend's trip to Sheffield United.
Grounds' arrival should fit the bill. He is, for one thing, fit. And not in the midst of some lengthy rehab a la a Matthew Bates or, alas, a Kennedy.
He is also rated – hence Gareth Southgate's decision to hand the local lad a new, two-year deal at the Riverside last spring. He also had little hesitation in whistling up Grounds again for a tricky away trip to Wigan last year after losing his two, regular left-backs – Andrew Taylor and Emanuel Pogatez – to injury ahead of that trip to the JJB.
Boro would win 1-0 that night as Grounds confirmed that he has the character to match his ability. The fact that he has long been installed as Boro's Reserve team skipper suggests that Southgate sees something in the kid – rather more than certain people did in Spurs' reserve team skipper, the luckless Troy Archibald-Henville.
?I had played at Southampton on Tuesday night and got back about three in the morning,? he told the Evening Gazette afterwards, his initial loan spell in Norfolk limited to just those five games. ?Then the next morning when I got up I got the call from Gareth and I drove straight back home.”
And straight into his starting line-up, to boot.
His second start, however, wasn't quite so successful. Slammed in at right-back for the home game against Chelsea, the six-foot one-inch Boro Academy product lasted 54 minutes in the midst of a 5-0 home rout at the Riverside.
He did, however, confirm that his first spell at City had done him the power of good.
?I've enjoyed it at Norwich. I've had five games there which is excellent for match fitness,” he said. ?It's different to training and you are much sharper so I felt ready to go straight into the first team.”
He is also well aware that he remains down on the pecking order right now; hence today's chance to top up the match fitness again should another opportunity arise closer to his North-East home.
?You have to play well, do your very best and try to do enough to stay in the team,” he said. ?I know there are some good players in my position who are ahead of me right now but I have to make sure the boss knows he can rely on me.”
For Roeder, it will be another big 'Thank you…' to Gareth Southgate for allowing Grounds out to play.
The only slight downside is the fact that he will not be allowed to feature in the FA Cup replay with Charlton on Tuesday night – or, indeed, whatever might follow thereafter. Be it an away trip to Brisbane Road or back to Bramall Lane in the fourth round, Roeder will again be forced to make do and mend minus his latest Premiership loan capture.
“Jonathan did extremely well for us prior to Christmas,” added the City chief, his first piece of transfer window business signed, sealed and delivered.
“And we know what we're getting – an exceptional player and an exceptional character.”