It was a sparkling five-minute cameo which gave Florent Cuvelier the chance to banish 11 months of injury hell, and offered Sheffield United fans a welcome reminder of the young Belgian’s talent and potential.
United’s win over Plymouth Argyle on Saturday, which booked their place in last night’s third round draw and earned them a third-round trip to Queens Park Rangers appeared routine thanks to a 3-0 scoreline.
But it in reality, it was anything but, with three penalties awarded; two scored by United’s Jose Baxter, after Argyle’s prolific marksman Reuben Reid had earlier squandered the chance to give his side the lead.
But on an eventful afternoon at Bramall Lane, it was the late introduction of Cuvelier that was arguably the defining memory for many of the 7,348 hardy souls in attendance. Eleven months previously, on his debut on loan at Port Vale, he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament - and every day since, the 22-year-old had focused on one goal: getting his boots back on and getting back out there.
“It was 11 months in the waiting, and it was a fantastic feeling to be back on the pitch,” Cuvelier admitted.
“Especially playing at Bramall Lane, and in an FA Cup game. I feel like all those lonely hours of hard work, in the gym, have finally paid off.
“It feels great to be playing football again and, of course, it was fantastic that we managed to get the win, too.”
Cuvelier replaced Baxter with five minutes of Saturday’s game remaining, and exchanged passes with Jamie Murphy before setting up Marc McNulty’s late third goal in front of the Kop.
“I had mixed emotions when I got the call to warm up and was told I was going on, to be honest,” Cuvelier added.
“I was telling myself that I was ready... being in the gym for 11 months transformed me into a stronger person, both physically and mentally.
“I was buzzing to get back out there and just wanted to remind everyone here of my potential and quality.”
Clough admitted that a decision had not been taken on whether or not to send Cuvelier out on loan to accelerate his return to match fitness. The Belgian enjoyed another run-out last night in United’s U21 Premier League Cup game against Stoke City, at Macclesfield’s Moss Rose ground, and the United boss added: “We’ll build his fitness up throughout December, as Florent could be an important player for us throughout that period and beyond.
“He’s another body in the squad and we’ll be looking to get some quality in on loan in January... we’ll have to assess whether or not he could be that player.
“As far as him going out on loan goes, we haven’t made a decision on that yet.
“But there’s no point in sending out a quality player on loan just to get another one in.
“So if he’s with us and we feel he’s adding something to the squad, then we’ll keep him here.”