Rarely has a defensive midfielder been a super sub in a disappointing 2-1 defeat.

And while that may be drifiting into hyperbolic territory, it didn't feel far off when Isaac Hayden was introduced midway through Norwich City's loss to Watford in October.

The Canaries had been without a true defensive midfielder since the double-whammy loss of Oliver Skipp and Alexander Tettey in the summer of 2021, the results of which were clearly underestimated by the powers that be at Carrow Road.

That created a context in which hero status could be quite easily achieved by any midfield enforcer willing to step up to the plate, and when Hayden arrived a year later, City fans thought they had their man.

Stuart Webber and Dean Smith had managed to capture a man with Premier League experience, Arsenal academy pedigree and a reputation for taking no prisoners. They had managed to capture exactly what they were looking for.

At least that's what it looked like on the surface. When scarves were being held aloft and photographs taken, the seriousness of Hayden's existing knee injury had been underestimated by all concerned.

The amount of game time he had missed in his final few months at Newcastle United was clear to see, but the diagnosis was that these issues were in the past.

Straight into first-team training the 27-year-old went, and the excited murmurings continued in the yellow and green background. A week into that training, however, the problems that would ruin his first four months as a Norwich player emerged.

The Pink Un: Injury blighted Hayden during his first few months as a Norwich player.Injury blighted Hayden during his first few months as a Norwich player. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

What was originally a minor pre-season set back became a missed pre-season, what was a missed pre-season became a missed start of the season and a missed start of the season became a multi-month absence.

The seemingly never-ending wait was becoming an irritation for City fans, whose appetite for entertaining football had not been satisfied and who were desperate for a filling in their gaping midfield hole.

The admirable job young Liam Gibbs did served as a passable stop gap, but when his ankle injury left just an out-of-position Kenny McLean, the clamour for Hayden's involvement became louder than ever.

City had somehow managed to manouvre their way through a clunky nine-game unbeaten run, but performances suggested longer-term stability was needed. 

Those issues came to a head 31 minutes into that loss at Vicarage Road, when Keinan Davis' goal doubled the Hornets' lead and set Smith's side on their way to a second consecutive defeat after the unbeaten run.

Hayden had been a surprise inclusion in the matchday squad, and it was even more of a shock when he was thrown in at the deep end after a week of training and nearly a year without playing competitively.

The difference he made was immediately palpable, with a once-soft centre replaced by a focal point around which the Canaries' more creative players could float freely in search of the ball.

The Pink Un: Hayden has added some bit in the City midfield.Hayden has added some bit in the City midfield. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

It must, of course, be noted that Watford were happy to sit on their lead without consistent attacking that evening, but the signs were there. In the 2-1 win at Rotherham a month later they reappeared, but the following week was the most worrying performance Hayden's produced in a Norwich shirt.

Having once epitomised bite and strength in midfield, he was absent and off the pace as Michael Carrick's Middlesbrough came from behind to win at Carrow Road. The blank canvas Hayden's work had provided City's creatives with was gone, and instead there was a freedom for Boro players to pass through midfield with ease.

That display turned attentions to whether Hayden had really been as affective as it appeared, and the data doesn't look good for the former Hull City man.

Since that Watford debut Norwich have won only two of eight matches, earning just one clean sheet in those games. The eye test was an easy pass early on for Hayden, but that dip in team form cannot be ignored.

There are always other factors at play, and it must be said that the Canaries have faced difficult opposition while their standards across the board have dropped. Hayden will be keen to associate his name with success in Norfolk, however, and results will be the priority the other side of the World Cup break.

The early signs were undeniably promising, and the difference the summer signing makes is clear, but if he's to make his time in NR1 a success, being part of more positive moments is essential.