Norwich City’s record-signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel this afternoon started to repay that reported £8 million transfer fee with interest after his 71st minute header gave the Canaries a well-deserved point from a 2-2 draw with Everton.
In a game that warmed up into a real, opening day feast after a tight and goalless first-half, it appeared that Everton might be heading home with the spoils after two quick goals from teenager Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman wiped out Steven Whittaker’s 51st minute opener.
But cometh the moment, cometh the man.
Whittaker’s horribly miscued shot proved just the ticket for the Dutchman to open his account on his full City debut with a perfect header back beyond a stranded Tim Howard.
As important as each and every point tends to be in the Barclays Premier League to a club outside that gilded top six, more important still will be the new confidence and belief that flows through the striker’s veins after today’s opening strike.
He has arrived in the top flight of English football and delivered on Day One.
And whilst the churlish might have hoped for all three points from an opening home game, a point and a goal for that young man ought to suffice. City will have easier days in terms of the opposition; more chances will fall van Wolfswinkel’s way. But now he knows where the goal is.
As for the game itself, City were forced to watch their visitors enjoy the better part of the early possession as the Canaries looked to get their new season off to the proverbial flier.
Minus their Moyes Everton might have been, but they still had a fluency and fluidity on the ball that comes with the familiarity of a largely unchanged squad. Last season’s gang was all there – whether the same could be said once the transfer window closes at the start of next month was another matter.
Norwich, by contrast, would have loved to have a more unfamiliar look to them given their reported £25m summer spending spree; as it was, Hughton could only call upon England Under-21 winger Nathan Redmond and Dutch international striker van Wolfswinkel as the likes of Leroy Fer, Sebastien Bassong and Gary Hooper sat the opener out.
Wesley was, therefore, back on centre-stage; dropping into that hole off van Wolfswinkel as Norwich went into Carrow Road bat without an out-and-out second striker.
Redmond certainly looked bright enough, while van Wolfswinkel’s first chance came on the 15th minute mark when the first decent ball looped in towards the penalty spot. The Dutchman rose well enough only for the covering Sylvain Distin to deflect the ball wide for a corner.
He was, in fairness, ruffling feathers. In places that he could hurt people. It prompted a decent spell of early pressure; four corners to put keeper Howard under pressure.
For Everton, it was Steven Pienaar who blew hot and cold with respective effect; his quick feet could prove far too quick for a Michael Turner; his delivery far too long for a chasing Kevin Mirallas.
Marouane Fellaini would ghost in and out of the game; he needed to be knocked out of his rhythm. Smashed into, to coin a phrase. On another day, perhaps that might have been a job for new-boy Fer, aka ‘The Doorman’.
City still lacked that extra physicality that the very best teams bring to the party.
That said they were drilled, disciplined and determined; trademarks of a Hughton side that sets out, first and foremost, to be hard to beat. The same qualities that the now-gone Moyes instilled into Everton’s DNA.
Goalless at the break, the question remained as to who would find that one, piece of extra quality to break the deadlock.
Six minutes after the re-start and Norwich found their man – step forward one Scottish international full-back who rode both luck, challenges and a kindly rebound off the post to drive City into a 51st minute lead.
Given the trials and tribulations of this time last summer when the former Rangers star was floored in that pre-season ‘friendly’ with Celtic, it was all Whittaker deserved. Now it was game on.
Now it was time to see what Everton had in the locker.
The answer was a 19-year-old with the sweetest of strikes as Barkley beat Ruddy with ease from some 22-yards out.
Questions inevitably will be raised as to whether the young man was closed down quickly enough; in fairness, give the kid his due. It was the lightning feet and the instinctive finish of a young man on the rise.
It lit the blue touch paper as five minutes later, Everton nicked a second. Ruddy’s parried save from an initial, Nikica Jelavic shot fell to an unmarked Coleman who finished with ease.
Now it was Norwich in need of a hero as Whittaker’s opener came to count for nothing.
Cue van Wolfswinkel with a fabulous left-to-right header to beat Howard inside his left-hand post – and all off an awful shanked shot from Whittaker.
For those that liked their entertainment, it came thick and fast thereafter.
Ruddy would have to spread himself to deny a combination of Jelavic and Steven Naismith, as van Wolfswinkel grew in confidence on the back of his debut goal.
In the end, there were no further dramas goals-wise. It was a point apiece; a fair score-draw.
But given the big characters that were missing from that opening Norwich line-up, it may well be Hughton and not Roberto Martinez who takes the greater heart from events of Day One.