City boss Paul Lambert might have made Jonny Howson’s signature official earlier today, but tonight he added two more ‘fresh faces’ to his spring party in the shape of James Vaughan and Elliott Ward.
Both started this evening’s Reserve team home clash with Chelsea at Carrow Road after long-term injuries.
And one of them scored – Vaughan producing a fine, diving header off an Elliott Bennett free-kick to get the second period off with a bang as the Canaries delivered a richly-entertaining 3-3 draw with a very young Blues Second XI.
But the manner in which both a healthy Carrow Road crowd some 3,100-strong and his team-mates alike celebrated that strike was recognition in itself of how much Vaughan deserves a break from the footballing gods. He has more than done his time in various treatment rooms and rehab suites.
The one-time Everton wonder-boy had made just three, fleeting appearances for his new employer when Mother Nature dealt him another blow in the shape of that autumn knee injury in the dying minutes of the home win over Sunderland.
Tonight, however, and the watching Lambert could start to judge how close the 23-year-old was to a first team return ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup fourth round trip to West Bromwich Albion. Both the goal and the player’s overall work-rate may yet be enough to get him a gig on the bench.
Ward, 27, has yet to kick a ball this season after damaging his knee in pre-season; his Reserve team return was a little less headline grabbing as Lucas Piazon stole in behind him to poach Chelsea’s 24th minute opener.
Vaughan’s goal-scoring return was, however, the night’s talking point. The Canary boss has already admitted that the state of the striker’s fitness would shape his thinking in the New Year transfer window.
If tonight’s outing is a sure sign that he could yet figure prominently this spring, so the canny Scot could yet stay his hand in the transfer market and see what the summer brings recruitment-wise.
Today and he appeared delighted to have slammed Howson into his thinking after the Leeds United skipper put pen to paper on a three-and-a-half year deal with the Canaries following a reported £2 million switch from Elland Road.
“It is every players dream to come and play in the best league in the world and I have got a chance now to do that,” said Howson today, his switch south helped by the progress Bradley Johnson has made under Lambert’s watch.
It will be interesting to see just what sort of character the Canaries have signed. To be handed the skipper’s armband at a club with the rich, evocative history of a Leeds at the age of 19 is no mean feat.
Lambert recognised as much in his own welcome speech delivered to the club’s official website.
“I think he has been brilliant for Leeds,” said the City chief. “How he has played, but also being their captain brings its own demands – it’s a fantastic club Leeds.”
Tonight’s game offered more than just Vaughan’s welcome strike on his injury return.
His evident energy had almost paid off on the half-hour mark as he came close to embarrassing Blues keeper James Russell. But having nicked the ball away from the stranded keeper on the edge of the Chelsea box, it needed a smart intervention from the covering Aziz Deen-Conteh to deny the returning Canary striker sight of an empty goal.
After bagging that 47th minute leveller and disappearing just after the hour-mark, it was left to two of City’s youngsters to steal the show.
Right-back Richard Brindley showed a composure way beyond his tender years to drill a glorious, low drive into the far bottom corner after decent approach play from Aaron Wilbraham before 17-year-old substitute Jamar Loza delighted the locals with Norwich’s third – smashing the base of a post with his first drive before slotting home the rebound with his second.
Chelsea’s own youngsters refused, however, to go quietly into the Norfolk night as substitute Islam Feruz delivered two, top class finishes to pull the Londoners level.
Little wonder that Celtic could be found making a fuss earlier this season as the 16-year-old made something of an unwelcome exit from Celtic Park. On tonight’s evidence, Chelsea might have got themselves a steal.