Ian Clarke: Kieran Dowell can complete the Norwich City jigsaw
If you had to choose your Norwich City player of the season today, who would get your vote?
Not easy is it?
We all remember campaigns in years gone by when it's been tough as no-one has really stood out while the Canaries have struggled.
As Daniel Farke's men charge relentlessly towards an immediate return to the Premier League, there are so many contenders this time around.
Emi Buendia, Teemu Pukki, Olly Skipp, Grant Hanley, Todd Cantwell, Kenny McLean, Max Aarons, Tim Krul... I could go on and what a choice.
Late last summer, just before the 20/21 season got under way, I was on our Pink Un show talking about what the months ahead had in store.
My colleague Dave Freezer was host and asked each of the guests who they thought the main man would be as City set out on the road to recover from the nightmare which was the relegation implosion.
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- 3 'It was divine' - Why this seafood platter is receiving rave reviews online
- 4 Garage owner has five months to clear site or face jail
- 5 'Shocked' couple almost given wrong Covid jab
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- 7 Owners put Tudor mansion wedding venue up for sale for £3.9m
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With very little hesitation I quickly chose Kieran Dowell.
The former England under 21 midfielder had joined the Canaries a few weeks earlier on a three-year deal from Everton.
There was a real sense of excitement about his arrival.
Dowell had been at Goodison Park since he was just seven and worked his way through the club's academy.
He was 17 when he made his Toffees' debut in the Europa League, while his top flight bow came just over a year later (against the Canaries).
Dowell played for England at various youth levels and was part of the Young Lions’ squad who lifted the Under-20 World Cup in 2017.
Other clubs had been interested in trying to snap him up and Farke was clearly very happy to win the race for his signature.
"He’s young, homegrown and has proven that he can score goals and get assists, so he’s pretty versatile in all offensive positions. I think it’s a great addition to our squad," was the head coach's verdict.
Dowell impressed in pre-season, started the first three games of the campaign and scored a fine goal in the league cup defeat to Luton.
But he was injured in the Carrow Road match against Preston, which led to him needing ankle surgery.
Since his return to fitness, the talented player has been unable to force his way consistently into Farke's plans.
We've had glimpses of what Dowell can do but no prolonged period of proof of his potential.
The way City have developed as a team this year has been little short of remarkable, hence why they are virtual certainties to go up and there are a ridiculous number of player of the season contenders.
Across the pitch, the Canaries look such a complete unit.
Tim Krul is as solid as ever and with his backline have created an impressive solidity which may well break club records for defensive meanness.
Kenny McLean and Oliver Skipp's partnership in the engine room is getting better all the time.
Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell are making us purr and if anyone ever had doubts about Teemu Pukki, they have been well and truly silenced.
So that's 10 of the 11 places covered.
The one remaining slot is that Number 10 position. Daniel Farke has tried plenty of different options in there in this amazing season - but hasn't quite cracked it.
I really think Dowell is the man to complete the Canary jigsaw in that hole - and I hope the gaffer gives him the starting berth there against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday evening.
Dowell glides effortlessly with the ball and offers a very attractive option moving forward. He also has a decent strike in his locker, which is key for a successful No.10.
When he came on as sub on Sunday just after the hour mark, he showed what he can do and his introduction at Hillsborough coincided with City's huge improvement after a frustrating first half.
Dowell looked as if he had lots to prove with a display combining positivity, energy and guile.
To me, he slots in perfectly with the Mayor and Skipp behind, Todd and Emi either side and Pukki ahead.
The fluidity, tempo and creativity the team had during that final third on Sunday was just too much for a side who had snuffed us out earlier in the game.
We still need to be patient with Dowell as he had a long time out and will require a run of games to reach his peak.
These last 10 matches are the ideal opportunity for that - and I feel it can be a mouth-watering dress rehearsal for hopefully his chance to shine on English football's main stage next term.
And who knows - I may have called the Canary player of the season a year early.
I keep being flabbergasted by decisions made by footballing authorities.
Last time I wrote about the continuing shambles around VAR.
This week I have to question the crazy view that Norwich's game at Preston on Good Friday shouldn't be put back, even though the Canaries are set to be missing a series of key players.
Call me naive, but I thought that's why we had international breaks?
Domestic action stops so the national teams can play.
So why on earth have internationals been arranged on the Wednesday and league matches are still happening two days later?
Fingers crossed that by then the Canaries will have six more points on the board and promotion will be even closer.
But there's a chance that match could be crucial. So come on league bosses - use some common sense and push it back to the Saturday.
It's even more galling when we learn that Brentford's match has been rescheduled for the following day for TV coverage.
How to celebrate?
Yes, I know we have to keep our feet on the ground. Yes, I know we mustn't get ahead of ourselves. Yes, I know there's still a chance we could be caught.
But come on, who isn't thinking about how we celebrate promotion?
While it is has been amazing to watch the Canaries' serene progress to being 10 points clear at the top of the Championship, it has been so tough not to be able to fill Carrow Road and pack the away ends of grounds this season.
Most of us have viewed games on our own.
Social media helps keep us connected and we are fortunate to have great coverage from our EDP/Evening News/Pink Un channels plus the iFollow service and our friends at Radio Norfolk and Talk Norwich City.
However, it's not the same as being together.
So assuming Farke's men bounce straight back, what can be done within the restrictions to mark the incredible achievement?
There's a chance a few thousand may be able to get in Carra by then. Could there be a socially distanced parade over a route to allow supporters to salute their heroes?
What do you think? I'd be interested in your views.