David Freezer: It’s great to see City injury victim Jarvis can finally ‘start feeling like a professional footballer again’
Whisper it quietly and touch wood at the same time, but the injury nightmare of Norwich City’s forgotten man Matt Jarvis may finally be coming to an end.
The one-cap England international’s injuries have already robbed him of more than two seasons of his career but a patient approach to his return to training could yet pay off.
The 32-year-old was back in action at Carrow Road on Thursday night, playing the first half of a 2-2 draw with Wolfsburg II for City’s U23s, and looked surprisingly sharp.
Having been eased back into full training in recent months, the man signed from West Ham in January 2016 for a reported £2.5m completed his scheduled 45 minutes in good shape.
It was a very different evening to the worrying U23s game he had taken part in back in March, going down begrudgingly with barely 20 minutes played against Fulham with what was revealed to be a hamstring strain.
After knee and ankle issues, such knock-on effects can cruelly hold players back. As Jarvis limped away forlornly during that Carrow Road game nine months ago, I have to admit, I wasn’t convinced we’d see him in a Norwich shirt again.
So it was a welcome sight when the former Wolves winger was back in the thick of things during City’s warm weather break in Tampa last month, although he clearly wasn’t charging into tackles or pushing himself too hard during the public training session in Florida.
Slow and steady has been the name of the game, having undergone minor summer surgery to clear out his knee and keep him on track, with sporting director Stuart Webber confirming thoughts of retirement were not in play at the start of this season.
“He needs to get back in with the team and feeling like a professional footballer again, as opposed to a guy who goes to the gym every day,” Webber told me at Colney. “So we need to hope that he can go back in and step that up for his career and his future.
“And not just for his Norwich City career because I think he got the injury in October 2015, so that’s three years, which is unbelievable when you think about it like that.”
For all the snarky comments of some on social media, annoyed that a well paid player has been on the sidelines for so long, just imagine not being able to do your job because of injury. The guy hasn’t been sat on his backside, he’s been trying to get fit, dealing with the psychological pain of regular setbacks.
So I couldn’t help feeling pleased for Jarvis on a human level when he must have started ‘feeling like a professional footballer again’ during the battle with Wolfsburg, as Webber had phrased it.
The former Gillingham attacker charged goalwards in the 12th minute, having already shown a couple of bursts of pace, and just couldn’t quite get to a header back across goal from fellow fit-again returnee Kenny McLean.
Five minutes later Nelson Oliveira – full of effort, no doubt being watched by scouts ahead of a likely January exit – set Jarvis away on the left again and his deep cross was unwittingly taken off the swinging boot of Adam Phillips by McLean.
Then the big moment arrived, the journalistic narrative klaxon screaming in my head as a classy flick from Oliveira played Jarvis clean through with just the keeper to beat. He shaped to fire an effort into the bottom-right corner and made clean contact, only for a strong left foot from the German stopper to ruin the moment – but thankfully Oliveira was there to sweep home into the net.
It may not have been the big moment Jarvis wanted but it was still a signal that his career may have some life left in it yet.
The wide man and Scotland midfielder McLean went off at the break after a mix of bright sparks and rusty moments for both as they hit the comeback trail.
A younger Canaries team lost their shape and momentum without that experience and fell 2-1 behind to a Wolfsburg team sitting top of their league in the German fourth tier, before a spirited rally which the watching Daniel Farke must have been pleased with – capped by an equaliser from Anthony Spyrou.
Summer arrival McLean was clearly the main concern for City’s head coach, as he makes his way back from ankle surgery, but it was heart-warming to see Jarvis make some progress.
With his contract up next summer, it seems unlikely that a first team return will be possible with Norwich. Yet if he can find enough form and fitness to earn a future with a club at a lower level, it would mark quite the comeback from an infuriating few years.
• A festive target
There have been plenty of facts, stats and quirks thrown Norwich City’s way in light of the ridiculous recent form of the Championship leaders.
The fact that all 10 of the teams top after 21 games in the past 10 years have gone on to be promoted is particularly remarkable, given that’s not even the halfway point of the campaign.
Farke’s team can only draw added confidence from that and it must be psychological as much as anything by that point. Winning being a habit as an old football adage that might just be based in fact.
But here’s a fresh target to aim for today, on the back of 12 wins in the last 15 league matches. That has matched the superb stretch of February, March and April in 2015 as Alex Neil inspired a phoenix-like revival.
That run was also 12 wins, two draws and a loss, so victory at Bristol City today would better that brilliant run – and keep the chances of being Christmas number one alive. Manage that and the players will definitely have earned a Christmas party!
• Bring the noise
Another push to crank up the Carrow Road volume is being made by fan groups ahead of next month’s FA Cup clash with Portsmouth.
Block E of the lower Barclay has again been designated as a singing section, as it was during the 3-1 win over Stevenage in the first round of the League Cup in August.
Following that game we asked supporters whether the singing section had been a success in an online poll and 78pc agreed that it had been worthwhile.
I was a bit sceptical about the potential for a false atmosphere prior to the game but there was no doubt without those efforts the evening would have been far more boring, as City struggled to beat the League Two side, needing Teemu Pukki to score and grab an assist.
So on the back of last week’s colourful display of scarves during On The Ball City prior to kick-off and the flags on show during this season, that momentum can be built upon – with tickets also sensibly priced by the club at £10 for adults and £1 for kids.