It is hard not to feel a touch of sympathy for Ben Gibson on his return to a Championship he looked a cut above last time in a Norwich City shirt. 

The 29-year-old's comfort on the ball, quality range of passing, and that natural left-sided balance marked him out as a key component in Daniel Farke’s second title-winning tour. 

But Gibson was a spectator for the run in during that 2020/21 coronation, after an ankle injury curtailed his impressive debut campaign in Norfolk. 

In his place the raw Andrew Omobamidele stepped up alongside the rock-like Grant Hanley to get the deal over the line, and earn the young Irishman an unexpected addition to his trophy cabinet. 

But Gibson was the class act in that Canaries’ backline, and the permanent deal triggered by promotion during the following summer was warmly welcomed by all and sundry. 

What has unfolded since, both for the centre back and the Canaries, would suggest he has never quite been able to recapture the same consistent level of performance. 

The Premier League exposed him to the type of pace and movement that frightens the best of operators. There were some uncomfortable days as part of a Norwich rearguard routinely exposed in a squad that, with the benefit of hindsight, was not fit for purpose. 

Then Gibson had to watch Dean Smith pair Omobamidele and Hanley in tandem again on the opening Championship weekend at Cardiff City, once the Irishman had recovered from his own injury issues that curtailed last season’s top flight tour due to a back complaint. 

Worth remembering Smith’s missive within minutes of relegation being confirmed - the first of his coaching career - at his previous club Aston Villa when the Norwich chief was quick to talk up the talent of the Irishman as a key aspect of a Football League fightback.  

That was the precursor to Omobamidele signing a new, longer term Carrow Road deal.  

But the head coach’s first selection of the Championship season sent a clear signal that Gibson would have to bide his time and fight his way back into favour. Or not, as the case turned out to be, after captain Hanley was dismissed late on at the Bluebirds.  

Wigan’s visit to Carrow Road the following weekend felt big on many levels. Not least for Gibson to make a compelling case for inclusion moving forward, but a loose square pass that led to James McLean’s opener proved to be his solitary Championship appearance over the next congested month. 

When he returned, Omobamidele was back on the sidelines with an ankle injury and Gibson was thrust back in the spotlight.

There was another costly turnover in the home defeat to Luton in mid-October, although Smith sought to shield his player and focus on the failings of team mates around him, who compounded the defender’s initial heavy touch in the middle of his own half.  

Gibson went into the World Cup break on the back of another Carrow Road league defeat to hometown club Middlesbrough. Of all teams.  

It is hard to dismiss the sense there really is something of the fates conspiring against a likeable, honest, popular member of the Norwich dressing room.

Easy to overlook now this is a player who was parachuted into the England international set up when he emerged on Teesside, and who has commanded transfer fees in excess of £23m in his career to date. 

A career that should be reaching its peak in green and yellow. But Gibson does not look like the same player from two seasons ago.  

Smith has multiple challenges to get this Norwich collective into promotion shape. How he helps Gibson re-capture the confident, commanding presence that was seemingly too good for the second tier last time might not be chief among them. But it could untie some of the knots.  

City do lack natural balance in their defence, and they crave a player good enough on the ball to break lines and make angles for deeper-lying midfielders. Gibson has those attributes.

What he may need is a prolonged run in the line up to build himself fully into this Championship campaign, but with Omobamidele scheduled to be back in action shortly after the World Cup pause he may find himself facing the same challenge Smith posed at the start of this season.  

How he can force his way into the Norwich City XI on merit? And then, crucially, stay there.