At least one pair of Irish eyes were smiling brightly last night as Wes Hoolahan marked his entrance onto the Premier League stage with City’s all-important first goal back in the big time.
It gave the Canaries a rightful share of the spoils in that 1-1 draw away at Wigan and confirmed that the 29-year-old Dubliner still has a real eye for goal as he made the very most of a mistake by Latics keeper Ali Ab-Habsi to bag that 45th minute leveller.
“It feels good alright,” Hoolahan told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards, as the Norfolk side sent their 4,500 travelling supporters home relatively happy on their return to the top flight.
It has been a right ‘ol roller-coaster since the Class of 2004-2005 disappeared on the banks of the River Thames one fateful summer afternoon.
But on the back of two, successive promotions – inspired in part by the dancing feet and sharp, footballing brain of Hoolahan, the Canaries are back where they and their supporters belong.
“It’s been a long time waiting for the club – we deserved to be here and all the lads have done brilliant,” said Hoolahan.
The word ‘brilliant’ crossed the lips of City boss Paul Lambert as he pondered the contribution of new-boy Steve Morison on his full, Canary debut alongside skipper Grant Holt.
The former Millwall striker made his presence felt in no uncertain terms and left the North-West with his first Premiership assist – a tenacious run and deflected cross for Hoolahan to convert.
“Morison did well on the right-hand side; beat the man; got a good ball in and the keeper obviously made a bit of a mistake, but I was there to stab it in,” Hoolahan recalled, delighted that all happened in so much of an instant.
“It was just quick reactions – it came to me quick and when you don’t have time to think, that’s probably the best,” he said.
The Canaries next test comes a week today and their opening home game against FA Cup finalists Stoke City. Given the Potters held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw this afternoon, it is going to be a big, big physical test of Lambert’s men.
Yesterday’s game saw Texan defender Zak Whitbread pick up a knock to his knee – furthering the likelihood of 20-year-old Spanish defender Daniel Ayala making his debut next weekend after his £800,000 switch from Anfield was confirmed over the weekend.
The fact that the Canaries can meet Stoke with one point already on the board and not on the back of a QPR-style opening day disaster will all help settle those early, August nerves.
“It’s very important that we got off to a good start,” said Hoolahan.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game, but we equipped ourselves well out there today and deserved the point.”
That they did. As ever, the Canaries opted to do it the hard way after Ritchie de Laet’s error led to Ben Watson’s penalty strike.
The former Palace favourite – and reported one-time Norwich target – would shudder a post as Norwich clung on at the end; de Laet producing two, big blocks as John Ruddy found himself caught out in no man’s land.
Character appears to be alive and well again in the Lambert dressing room.
“We’ve shown that character on many occasions – that if we go behind we always come back and that’s what the team spirit does for us. And it was great to come from a goal behind and play well in the second-half,” said the Dubliner.
“The last 10 or 15 minutes was always going to be tough; they hit the post and we made a few crucial blocks, but we hung on and it was a great point in the end.”
His big hope was that as the Canaries settled into their new surroundings and grew in confidence, so they will start to ‘play’ that much more.
Probably not against the Potters where time and space will be at a minimum, but come the Chelseas and the Tottenhams, so the more creative players like Hoolahan might find themselves afforded rather more of a stage to play on than that they were ever afforded in the hurly-burly of The Championship and League One.
“We have shown that we can compete, but hopefully over the next weeks we can get the ball down and play some football,” said Hoolahan, fast learning the unforgiving ways of Premiership life.
“Obviously the games a lot quicker and if you make a mistake they will punish you, but we’ve adapted ourselves well and looking forward to the coming months.”