City boss Peter Grant will be adopting a safety first policy as the Canaries kick-off their pre-season schedule at the other St James' Park tomorrow.
And be warned. For anyone contemplating making the 600-odd mile round trip to Blue Square Premier League Exeter City on the middle weekend in July – and that's the Vauxhall Conference to the rest of us – you may not even get a glimpse of Grant's new faces.
Keepers David Marshall and Matty Gilks are expected to be kept home in Norfolk as they concentrate on further goalkeeping work, while Jon Otsemobor, Julien Brellier, Jamie Cureton and David Strihavka will all be carefully assessed beforehand to see whether the long trip to Devon is really an ideal preparation for the biggest date in Grant's diary – Deepdale, August 11, 2007.
A first sighting of Strihavka in competitive surroundings would be No1 on supporters' hopes; again, that may have to be put on hold – even until next week's six-day trip to Holland.
“I'll see how David is over the next couple of days,” said Grant, speaking as his 6ft 2in Czech striker officially signed in at Colney this week.
“You tend to forget that for these guys it's a completely new thing for them. Different tempo, the way that the game is played. And the emotional side of it more than anything else,” added the City chief, expected to take a 22-strong playing party down to the South-West this weekend.
“Getting through the fitness tests; the medical tests; the fact that they're in hotels; all these things we've got to assess.
“We'll take everything into account and I'll speak to him on Friday and make that decision then. Is he part of the squad? Or do I leave him here to do some fitness work?
“That's the question I've got to ask myself when I've got seven games to play. Because the biggest thing for all these guys is that they are available for the 11th of August. That's the most important thing for me.
“So if I had to wait till, say, Holland for him to get a full game then I'm comfortable with that.”
Grant is clearly conscious of pushing his players too far, too soon after making sure that everyone hit the ground running on their return to full-time training at Colney last week. Literally.
“They've been working very hard – some days it's been four sessions; two gym sessions and two football sessions. So we'll assess them becuase your muscles are moving differently when you come to games,” said Grant, whose squad all disappeared over the summer with strict, six-weeks fitness schedules to follow.
And a little heart monitor to prove it…
“That's one thing I'm conscious of – of putting guys in that are not up to speed yet,” said the City chief.
“The likes of Brellier. A big part of his game is his fitness. So we've got to make sure that his fitness levels are up to the standard that we expect – the same with Jamie.
“Because he never had the plan that we put together; Jon Otsemobor has been working very, very hard and he's quiet a strong lad, but there again we've got to make sure that all their muscles are up to the speed that they can take the intensity that we want to play at. That's the big thing.”
Grant's safety first policy also extends to one or two familiar faces.
“Lee Croft missed out the other day – not because of an injury, just that I felt that he's been working so hard that I felt there was a bit of stiffness in his legs and he could miss a couple of weeks after working as hard as he has done. So I rested him.
“And that's what I'll end up doing with some of the boys.
“Dion – it's been hard graft for him. He's taken part in everything, but he only played for a 25 minute period the other day. So there's wee things like that that we've got to assess all the time.
“I'll speak to Neal (Reynolds) and Dave Carolan on that – and obviously our eyes tell us that as well by watching the boys on the training pitch.”
Which is where both Marshall and Gilks are set to remain. Marshall's last competitive outing of any sort was, of course, City's FA Cup trip to Chelsea last season when that injured ankle ended the 22-year-old's loan spell in Norfolk virtually before it had begun.
“It was unfortunate for him that by the time he was fully fit, he was doing a lot of running and a lot of people were off then so you don't get a lot of goalkeeping work,” said Grant. “So he's back doing his goalkeeping.
“He's been doing a lot of that this week and I'd probably say that him and Matty Gilks won't take part this weekend. Even though Marsh is wanting to play, I'd probably want to leave him out.”
All of which should see either Joe Lewis or Paul Gallacher start in goal. Another point of interest will be Youssef Safri's role given that Midlands newspapers continue to insist that the 30-year-old City playmaker continues to form part of Tony Mowbray's ?11 million summer spending spree – despite the Baggies' interest in young Portuguese midfielder Filipe Teixeira.
“There are lots of discussions going on at the moment,” Mowbray told the Birmingham Mail. “I'd hope over the next few weeks there will be a few additions coming in.”
The Grecians will be looking for rather more of a football match than their last outing – a 1-1 draw against Cornish neighbours Bodmin Town earlier this week that saw young defender Danny Seaborne hobble off after a knee-high welcome from the moors by Bodmin striker Steve Ovens – all of which found a fuming Exeter boss Paul Tisdale watching the final ten minutes of the contest from the stands.
Defender Rob Edwards adds a wealth of Football League experience to the pack after lengthy spells with both Bristol City and Preston North End, while Richard Logan is formerly of these parts – having featured for both Ipswich Town and Peterborough United.
Leave a Reply