The biggest silver lining to this weekend’s FA Cup fifth round exit to Leicester City wasn’t hard to spot – the eagerly-awaited return of striker James Vaughan.
The 23-year-old former Everton starlet made his first appearance for the better part of six months in yesterday’s 2-1 defeat against the Foxes after injuring his knee way back in September.
Two goals in successive reserve team games – the first against Chelsea, the second against West Bromwich Albion last week – suggested that Vaughan had lost little by way of his eye for goal.
And as the Canaries went in search of a way back into yesterday’s contest, so the luckless City striker was granted 30 minutes of action – due reward for his long rehab over the autumn and festive periods.
“Getting back out onto the pitch was brilliant from a personal point of view, but like I say it was all about getting through [to the next round] today and unfortunately we couldn’t do that.
“So I’m pretty disappointed on that front.”
Vaughan has hardly had much of a chance to kick a ball in anger since his summer arrival, but there were glimpses yesterday of a sharp eye for goal and a natural ability to find the time and the space required to test an opposition keeper.
That there is a player there is not in doubt; he just needs the footballing gods to give him a break.
“It’s just part and parcel of football unfortunately,” said Vaughan, who has still earned much affection among the Canary faithful – not least through his Twitter account.
“I’ve just got to keep working hard now and, hopefully, repay the support the fans and the coaching staff about the place have shown me.”
The striker admitted what the vast majority of Canary fans felt – that, on paper, the home clash with Championship Leicester offered a great opportunity to progress into the final eight of this season’s competition.
Alas, in reality, things didn’t work out as all had planned; this afternoon and it was the Foxes who will travel to either Chelsea or Birmingham with a semi-final trip to Wembley on offer to the winner.
“We’re extremely disappointed to be out of the FA Cup,” Vaughan told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards, after Wes Hoolahan first-half penalty wiped out Sean St Ledger’s early strike.
But having regained a foothold in the contest, the Canaries could never really settle into an easy passing rhythm and the chances to take hold of the contest never materialised.
Leicester were the better side on the day. Manager and players alike admitted as much.
“I think we all thought that it was a great opportunity for us today to get a win and move on to the next round and keep the good form going.”
David Nugent’s second-half winner ended that little hope. In fairness, it was no more than the visitors deserved after the Canaries rarely got out of second gear with boss Paul Lambert opting to rest four of his bigger turns ahead of next weekend’s home clash against Manchester United – Grant Holt, Andrew Surman, Kyle Naughton and John Ruddy all watched as the Canaries failed to make their Premier League status count.
“We didn’t perform to the levels we expect of ourselves and, unfortunately, we lost today,” said Vaughan, honestly.
“And I don’t think it was anything to do with who we were playing against. Confidence was very high in the team and we wanted it badly, to win. But today we didn’t play well enough to warrant it and you’ve got to give full credit to Leicester for taking full advantage of that.”
Vaughan offered little by way of explanation. But City were distinctly off colour and off the pace as opportunity came and went of making a splash in this season’s competition.
“I think we just weren’t up to our best, really,” he said. “We’ve shown over the weeks and the months what we can do and today it wasn’t one of those days. But we’ve got to put it behind us now and move on to next week’s game.”