Youssouf Mulumbu finally moves centre stage for Norwich City with encouraging display

Jack Grealish of Aston Villa and Youssouf Mulumbu of Norwich in action during the Sky Bet Championsh

Jack Grealish of Aston Villa and Youssouf Mulumbu of Norwich in action during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The curious Norwich City career of Youssouf Mulumbu hit a rare high this week as the midfielder gave the Canaries a welcome harder edge in their vital win over Aston Villa – raising hopes that he can kick on and finally become the player Alex Neil had hoped for.

The experienced battler joined on a free transfer in 2015 after his six years with West Brom came to an end, where he played many games alongside current City team-mate Graham Dorrans in the Baggies' engine room.

Mulumbu looked sharp in pre-season ahead of City's Premier League return but picked up a foot injury in the final friendly against Brentford and subsequently missed most of the first three months of that campaign.

The Democratic Republic of Congo international returned to action in late October but was in and out of the team until a particularly poor performance in a painful 2-0 loss at bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa saw him dropped in February.

The former Paris Saint-Germain trainee was then rarely seen as the Canaries plunged towards the drop.

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It looked as if Mulumbu's time in Norfolk could be written off this summer, as he was linked with moves to Marseille, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace, but deadline day passed without incident.

His bit-part role continued, with mainly substitute appearances early this season, starting only a 1-1 draw at Ipswich in the league and then playing well in an impressive 2-0 win at Everton in the EFL Cup – before injury struck again in September.

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Another two months out with a foot problem punctured Mulumbu's progress but, in truth, his absence was hardly a great cause for concern for City supporters.

Yet he returned in the 1-0 loss at Derby last month – completing just his second 90 minutes in a City shirt – and may have reached his turning point two games later at Barnsley.

With City losing 2-0 and drifting towards a defeat which could have proved so costly to his manager, Mulumbu came on at half-time and added the energy and bite so lacking in the first half. The 29-year-old's introduction couldn't salvage a point at Oakwell but it was enough to persuade Neil to hand him a start against Villa on Tuesday.

Mulumbu responded with his best performance yet, injecting urgency, strength and tenacity.

His efforts were loudly applauded by the home fans, as he was replaced by Alex Tettey in the 74th minute, having given his all.

He could now prove vital in City getting their season back on track, although the African Cup of Nations could see him miss at least the trip to Rotherham on January 14 and the visit of Wolves a week later, although if DR Congo make it to the final he could miss a further three league matches.

With his contract due to expire next summer, time is now of the essence for Mulumbu, if he is to fulfil his potential as a Canaries player.

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