The disappointment was undeniable at Carrow Road as the clock ticked toward 4:15 and Norwich City were headed for defeat in a crucial Championship encounter.

Callum O'Hare had opened the scoring for visitors Coventry around nine minutes earlier, and five minutes after that Angus Gunn was forced into a miraculous save to keep the Canaries in it.

Head coach David Wagner's answer was to introduce Onel Hernandez and Ashley Barnes, the latter of whom in place of deadline-day signing Sydney van Hooijdonk. Much of the excitement ahead of kick-off was to see the Dutchman, whose goalscoring record made his arrival quite the coup.

"Optimistic today," said one fan outside the stadium pre-match. "Hopefully we'll see the new striker today. We've had a little bit of a watch on YouTube to see how he's settling in and stuff. We have been a little bit shy in front of goal, so hopefully he'll score today."

The excitement around van Hooijdonk's arrival was understandable, but Barnes is a man who's always got a point to prove, and he set about doing so immediately.

The Pink Un: Barnes was a key man in City's comeback win over Coventry on SaturdayBarnes was a key man in City's comeback win over Coventry on Saturday (Image: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd)

Three minutes after his introduction he'd played a key role in Josh Sargent's equalising goal, spinning a fine pass out to Gabriel Sara before seeing his subsequent volley drop into the American's path.

If that wasn't enough of a doubt-dispeller, he followed it up by teeing up the game's winning goal, holding onto the ball until the perfect moment to unleash Borja Sainz and his trademark stunning curler.

That assist made a tangible point of a trend that's developed since Sargent recovered from injury; Barnes' return to technical and tactical key-man status. The year so far has been a productive one for the south west native, scoring against Bristol Rovers and helping his side re-establish their place in the second-division play-off race.

But this isn't a new pattern; the 34-year-old's season has been punctuated by Sargent's availability. Some of his best times in yellow and green were early in the campaign, when the duo fired Norwich as high as second in the league.

“He’s a special player," said Barnes of his strike partner after scoring in a 3-1 win over Millwall. "I keep telling him that he is so incredibly good. He doesn’t realise how good he is. Who knows what he can be. He is a phenomenal talent."

The Pink Un: Sargent and Barnes are fans of each otherSargent and Barnes are fans of each other (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

The appreciation was reciprocated, Sargent saying of the City number 10: "He came into the club and right away said that he doesn't care if he doesn't score any goals at all, he just wants to help the team get promoted and help me score goals.

"Obviously as a striker, hearing this new guy come in, a guy that I thought was going to be very selfish and all about himself. He's been the complete opposite, so it's been good.

"Of course he's had a great career, and to get praise from him is very nice. He's a great player and great for the team."

The strength of that bond is clear, and without it Barnes struggled. He scored just once in 11 appearances while an ankle ligament injury kept Sargent out, and looked an isolated presence losing credit with a fan base that loved him at first.

The former Burnley man's celebration of that one goal, the third goal in City's 3-1 December win over Sheffield Wednesday, displayed his frustration at a difficult few months for player and team.

The Pink Un: Barnes made his frustration clear after scoring for City against Sheffield Wednesday in DecemberBarnes made his frustration clear after scoring for City against Sheffield Wednesday in December (Image: PA)

But 16 days after that goal Sargent was back in the fold, making a late cameo to the benefit of the entire Norwich faithful but even more so of his attacking team-mate.

From there it's all been it's all been on the incline for Barnes, who's seamlessly slipped back into the clockwork of a relationship he hasn't replicated with any of the Norfolk side's other strikers.

The rotational movement between the two is what makes them so potent, as he explained earlier this term. “That’s the good combination of our play," he said. "We can change formations throughout the games.

"I've heard [the opposition] shouting at themselves because they didn’t know who to pick up, that is a credit to ourselves because we know how to get into those positions."

That Wagner's first-choice duo have so quickly rekindled the flame that kickstarted their season is good news for the German, his charges and all those of a Norwich City persuasion. Internally and externally the perception has been that Barnes can be a key man as they push for the top six.

If their current form continues then there's a good chance of making it, and the old school stalwart can look back on Sargent's absence as a simple blip in an impactful revival.