There are more obvious links than Kevin Mirallas in the chain of events that advanced Aiden McGeady's Everton transfer but few can have a greater impact on keeping Roberto Martínez's team in Champions League contention as resources start to stretch at Goodison Park.
McGeady signed from Spartak Moscow for a nominal fee on Saturday after Everton had accepted a £5m offer from Hull City for Nikica Jelavic and their creative options suffered the potential blow of losing Ross Barkley to a fractured toe. The extent of Barkley's injury was not confirmed before he accompanied Everton on a warm-weather training trip to Tenerife , although Martínez, who has a physiotherapy degree, put the midfielder's absence at anything from three to six weeks following a routine defeat of a Norwich City team without a win in six league matches.
"We prepared with Ross this week and were hoping he could play with an injection," said the Everton manager. "That's why it was a big blow that the reaction wasn't right. But I don't expect him to be out that long or to miss the next England game [Denmark on 5 March]. With Ross being such a young man and taking him away to the warm weather, I think it will heal a lot quicker – maybe three weeks."
All Martínez could say for sure is that Everton will be without their homegrown impetus for the derby at Anfield in just over a fortnight. "He will miss that," he added, "but we have got Aiden McGeady so you lose one and you get one." There is, however, a flawin Martínez's optimism on that score.
The 27-year-old, scheduled to arrive on a free in the summer prior to the Jelavic bid and Barkley blow, has not played a full competitive game for Spartak Moscow since mid-November. Having been suspended from training after falling out with the coach, Valeri Karpin, the Republic of Ireland winger spent the last month kicking his heels at home in Glasgow – fine for a quick medical on Merseyside on a Saturday morning; not ideal preparation for replacing Barkley's creative spark.
That responsibility now increases on Mirallas. The Belgium international is a rarity this season – an offensive talent who has not flourished under Martínez – but, as with this time last year, he is starting to come into form at a critical juncture. Whether in response to increased competition from McGeady or not, the 26-year-old was instrumental in Everton's dominance over Norwich for 70 minutes, creating several openings, composed inside the area and receiving his reward with a delightful 25-yard free-kick inside John Ruddy's right-hand post.
Martínez said: "Remember that Kevin has played a lot of football and you are going to get some ups and downs depending on what stage of the campaign you are at. I thought he was bright and had all the energy. Kevin can play in different positions and we have opportunities now for those three places behind Rom [Lukaku]. I still think a couple of players could play in that forward position so that's why it was important for us to do Aiden McGeady now rather than at the end of the season. I've seen Aiden play on the left and he probably played more on the right for Spartak. Probably his best games for Celtic were rotating between the two positions. His understanding of the space is what's important."
Mirallas' third goal of the season made the contest safe for Everton but his effort and influence was eclipsed by Gareth Barry. The 32-year-old beat Ruddy with a magnificent shot in the first half, with the England manager, Roy Hodgson, watching on, before Norwich rallied dangerously in the final 20 minutes. They carried genuine menace after the introduction of Nathan Redmond but it was simply too late by then. The on-going struggles of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper in attack remain a serious impediment to Norwich's recovery.
Man of the match Gareth Barry (Everton)