Norwich City look all set to roll back the clock at Deepdale on Saturday and head into battle against the Lilywhites with Gary Doherty partnering… Jason Shackell.
For in an interesting day at the office for new City boss Bryan Gunn so his quest to find a fit, experienced centre-half took him to the corridors of Molineux and a chance encounter with the player that the Canaries' had off-loaded to the league leaders for some ?500,000 six months ago.
One 'How's it going, Shacks?' conversation later and the 25-year-old has returned to pastures old in a three-month loan deal after making just three starts for Mick McCarthy since that summer switch.
His last appearance came in the 2-1 FA Cup home defeat by Middlesbrough on January 24. Otherwise, Shackell has found himself little more than a bit-part player in Wolves' promotion drive.
Overnight, however, and that has all changed as he steps firmly back onto centre-stage for Norwich's forthcoming fight against relegation.
“I want to play games and it's a good opportunity for me,” said Shackell, as he prepares for a wholly unexpected reunion with his long-time defensive partner Doherty at Deepdale.
“I'm happy to come back to a place that I know so well and I want to help us get away from the bottom of the table,” he told the Canaries official website today.
City boss Gunn was duly delighted – having seen Stoke's Andrew Davies fall foul of first the weather and then the Potters' weekend injury crisis and watched as Ferguson Jnr managed to persuade Ferguson Snr that London Road was the place for 20-year-old James Chester to continue his education.
With the threat of a one-match ban hanging over Doherty's head and Middlesbrough's Jonathan Grounds now subject to a 24-hour recall ahead of his full-time return to The Riverside on March 7, the City chief only had the untested Australian Adrian Leijer left at his disposal. Now, however, the picture has changed again.
“It's fantastic to have him back,” said Gunn. “I bumped into him at Molineux last week and realised that he wasn't part of Mick's immediate plans and it was an opportunity to bring in a quality player in an area of the pitch we need to get cover.”
The fact that Doherty will be playing at Preston this weekend came courtesy of their lordships at Soho Square who today surprised everyone by upholding the club's appeal against the red card he received on Saturday for that 44th minute 'foul' on Dele Adebola.
It was a decision that completed a wretched afternoon's work for the day's official Andy D'Urso as the FA Disciplinary panel effectively ruled that the hapless Billericay official got the game's key decision wrong.
For not only did Bradley Orr score the resulting penalty to make it 2-1, it also left City a man short for the next 50 minutes. And as hard as they huffed and puffed for that second-half – and had another clear-cut penalty decision ruled out to boot – they could not dig a leveller out and kissed good-bye to three potentially priceless points.
Today's decision, therefore, comes as something of a bitter-sweet victory for the Canaries; that is – as has now been decided – Doherty's last-gasp tackle was perfectly-timed and nicked the ball first and not Adebola, then the home side could have easily gone on to have claimed at least a point for their efforts.
He is, at least, now back in the travelling party for the North-West this weekend.
“This shows the appeal system works,” said the Canary chief this afternoon. In fairness to D'Urso, he might not have been best-placed to see whether or not it was ball or man first; his assistant might have been.
It also created a spot of FA Disciplinary Committee history – this is the first time ever that a Football League appeal has been upheld in this manner.
“I wasn't convinced it was a sending off, Gary played the ball, but from the referee's positioning it was a sending off and a penalty-kick. They've had a chance to look at it again and it's fallen in our favour,” added Gunn, again speaking to the club's official site.
“It won't bring us points but we will have an influential figure available for the next game and we're delighted about that. I want to thank the FA committee for making the time to look at it.”
Shackell, handed the skipper's armband by then-boss Peter Grant before being deemed surplus to Glenn Roeder's requirements come deadline day last August, had a fairly rough last two years at the club as the captaincy started to weigh all-too heavily on his shoulders.
The theory would be that the big, smiling face of Mr BG waiting for him at the gates of Colney – added to the new, positive atmosphere around City's training HQ – will lift Shackell to the heights that is capable of.
The other point is even more straight-forward than that. In the current climate and in their current, urgent hour of defensive need, the Football League is hardly awash with willing and available alternatives.
Hopefully, in turning the clock back to the Doherty-Shackell Show, Gunn doesn't stop the clock at April, 2006, when the pair travelled to Deepdale together and proceeded to win the game for the home side – Shackell bagging the first own goal on 20 minutes, Doherty the second on 38 minutes as Norwich lost 2-0.