It's hard to overestimate the widespread frustration when the news broke.

Whispers had begun to circle through social media in the hours leading up to Norwich City's friendly with King's Lynn Town last July, but it was confirmed by David Wagner on The Walks pitch that Borja Sainz had sustained an ankle injury that would keep him out for months.

The Spaniard had been City's marquee signing of the summer, a beacon of hope as they picked up the pieces from a miserable 13th-placed finish weeks earlier. Now he was absent for nearly half of the season, and fans were left scrambling for signs of optimism to take into the campaign.

They wondered if the transfer market could be utilised again, worked out when Sainz might return to the team, debated whether Onel Hernandez still had months of regular starts. Few thought of the eventual solution: Jonathan Rowe.

But that suited them down to the ground at Colney, where Rowe was seen somewhat as a secret weapon. Then-head coach Wagner rated him highly from what he'd seen in training and told of the youngster's talent by colleagues.

Add to that an impressive pre-season, in which Rowe scored the first goal on a rainy night in Barnet, and he earned a surprise start on the opening day of the season against Hull.

From there he never looked back, officially introducing himself with a nonchalant left-footed curler from the edge of the box to equalise in the first half.

That was the first of five goals in consecutive games, winning the EFL young player of the month award weeks after the first senior start of his career.

But just as many of his team-mates did, the England under-21 international experienced a drop-off after Josh Sargent's injury at Huddersfield. The following trip to Rotherham was his first game of the league season without a goal, as well as the team's first loss of the term.

And although his ability remained clear, the productivity in his game dropped off and the Canaries looked toothless in forward areas. That's understandable; a young player in a team that's lost its confidence is always going to struggle, and Wagner's increasingly negative tactics didn't help.

There were still highlights even in the dark times, including a fine finish from a tight angle against Middlesbrough and an impressive solo strike against Birmingham, but it took until December for him to really kick back into gear.

The good news for fans was that he timed that perfectly, nodding home against Sheffield Wednesday before an unorthodox derby brace against Ipswich Town.

Before long Sargent was back and Rowe was back to his best, driving forward and slaloming to the edge of the box before poking in against Hull - the eventual Championship goal of the month for January.

But then injury struck, and an innocuous hamstring issue against QPR had an enormous impact on his and the team's season. 

Injury ruined the second half of Rowe's seasonInjury ruined the second half of Rowe's season (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

Although he was back in time for a handful of cameos late in the campaign, he never looked fully match fit and certainly wasn't when it came to the play-off semi-final against Leeds United.

All of Rowe's efforts throughout the campaign were focused on reaching that semi-final, but it was clear in both legs, especially the trip to Elland Road, that he was nowhere near ready.

That's another criticism Wagner faces over the winger's season, given the bizarre sluggishness with which he was brought back into the fold. He wasn't given a single start until the Whites' visit of Carrow Road, and may well have ended his time in yellow and green with his worst game wearing the colours.

That remains to be seen, with speculation swirling around him and only two years left on a contract he's currently unlikely to renew at present.

There remains frustration over how his season ended, but the fact the promise shown early in it still inspires Premier League interest now is an indicator of the potential Rowe has.

However it ended, there's no doubt that 2023-24 was a breakout campaign for him. How different it could have been without one pre-season injury that felt like the end of the world.