City boss Peter Grant was today breathing a sigh of relief after hearing that star striker Darren Huckerby was likely to be available for the start of the new season on August 11.
The 31-year-old two-time player of the year has yet to kick a ball in anger this summer after picking up a slight groin strain.
Forced to sit out Norwich's opening tour game against AGOVV Apeldoorn on Saturday afternoon, Huckerby flew back to Norfolk on Sunday where a scan has now revealed the good news – that he will not need surgery on the problem and that Mother Nature and some intensive physio permitting, he should be there or thereabouts come Deepdale.
“We've had the problem with Hucks (Darren Huckerby) which I know that he had at Coventry last year,” said Grant, casting his mind back to the groin injury that ripped up his predecessor's best-laid plans – to fatal effect, as it proved.
“He missed the Coventry game and this time he's tried to play through it. But we just felt it was important to get him home, get it scanned and we've had good news on that in that it's going to settle down in a week to ten days. So we're very pleased about that.
“You're always concerned that it's a tear – especially when it's groin and the way that he plays. And we just couldn't afford that with him.”
On that timetable, the West Ham United game next Tuesday night might come too soon. He could, at a push, make the Vitesse game the following weekend, but it would be a very moot point as to whether Grant would wish to push his star turn at all.
In the meantime, Luke Chadwick and Simon Lappin both offer alternative options as Grant continues to toy with a few alternatives formation-wise. It was 3-5-2 come the start of the Apeldoorn; something resembling 3-4-3 come the end of it.
“There's different systems that we're looking at and I think we've got a different mix now,” said the City chief, who now has seven new faces at his disposal after a busy time in the summer transfer market. Somewhere in the mix may lie the kind of winning combination that could make Norwich a competitive Championship unit this season.
“We had a different shape to the team there the other evening. In the morning I thought it wasn't very good, but when we played the game in the evening there was a lot of good things in it and it gives the players a confidence that we can swing to things; there's different combinations we can play up front and the strikers have been scoring goals.
“OK, it's not been world class opposition in any shape or form. But it gives you confidence to be scoring goals, but it also gives us a confidence when we're keeping clean sheets. And that's important – that's one thing we have to tighten up on is the amount of goals that we conceded last year.”
Norwich have, after all, kept a clean sheet for the last five hours of football; it is only those first 11 minutes against Exeter in which their defensive copybook has been blotted.
A lot, however, remains mere theory. He has, for example, yet to really bed Julien Brellier into the heart of his side as the French enforcer struggles to shrug off the thigh strain sustained at The Walks last week. Equally, Dickson Etuhu's exit has left a big hole in his thinking – thinking that the arrival of Chelsea youngster Jimmy Smith has only just started to address.
In fairness to Mark Fotheringham, he appears to have sensed an opportunity in Etuhu's sudden absence; not to replace the 6ft 3in Nigerian's sheer physical presence but at least to give the manager something more to ponder midfield-wise. Likewise, Youssef Safri's role in the grander scheme of things offers as many questions as answers; his interest looked firmly intact in training as he pinged a peach of a 22-yarder into the top corner.
Hence, Grant's answer to a simple question: 'Is he where he wants to be at this stage in pre-season?'
“I'd say 'No!' because you're still looking at the players and we've had a few knocks just through the amount of work we've had to do,” said the City chief, as the Canaries' own summer fitness schedule ensures that the new arrivals have work to do.
“Some boys have come in later than others; other boys have had a plan right through the summer. So it's not the case that they're behind in their fitness, it's because of the amount of fitness work we've done in the summer – so some of them feel aches and pains and strains.”
Watching the Canaries go through their Monday morning practice paces and one other factor needs to be considered – the likely impact that Messrs Marshall and Gilks are likely to have on proceedings.
Gilks has yet to feature; Marshall has yet to be remotely tested; both looked bright and sharp during the course of a two-hour morning session.
“I think you've seen today the quality of the two goalkeepers we've got – they're top quality goalkeepers and they have that desire not to be beaten. And if they're not comfortable with their central defenders or their full-backs, then they'll let them know.
“And I think that's a big part of making the team better. We have to be more solid – there's no doubt about that.”
Neither, you sense, will happily settle for playing second fiddle to the other; again, in theory, that should spur the pair on. One false move…
“We're getting – we're getting there,” said Grant. “Slowly but surely…”
City skipper Adam Drury never exactly comes across as someone to bear a grudge. However, on this occasion, he may well make an exception for West Bromwich Albion's Hungarian star Zoltan Gera.
For some four months after the pair bumped into eachother at Carrow Road and the Baggies' favourite is still making a big impact on the life of the 28-year-old Canary defender after his latest trip to the dentist ensured Norwich would now boast another gap-toothed giant in their midst. Well, kind of.
“Yes – my dental problems are carrying on, unfortunately. I've now got a Iwan Roberts-style false front tooth,” revealed Drury, fresh from Saturday's opening tour victory over AVVOG Apeldoorn.
A slight lisp proved the point as his newly-constructed falsie bore further witness to a dental nightmare that saw Gera remove three of Drury's teeth in that 2-1 home defeat by the Baggies last Easter. His trip to Leicester City the following last Saturday lasted little more than one goal and 90 seconds as the powerful pain killers took their toll on his senses almost immediately. Three months later and it just carries on.
“I've got to take it out for games and training and that's going to continue for the next two or three months – or until Christmas time anyway,” Drury explained.
“It's just carried on, basically. I've fractured the tooth below the gum line; had a crown put in, but the hole's too big and it won't stay in properly so I've got to have an implant put it.
“And that means drilling into the bone in your jaw and God knows what else. And then the implant takes two to three months to settle before you have a tooth put into that.
“So, no, it's not been good. Wait till we meet up with Mr Gera again – if he doesn't leave beforehand…”
Dental problems aside, Drury is happy with his pre-season form as he looks to crack the 300-game mark this season. He has, after all, a new four-year contract sat on the family mantelpiece and could yet qualify for a Testimonial game – nigh-on unheard of in these ever-moving times.
“I think pre-season has gone pretty well. Everyone's come back and looked pretty sharp and are now just trying to get game-time. But everyone knows it's all about the first game of the season.
“You can pla
y as many pre-season friendlies as you want – and you can win them all. But it doesn't matter. You'd don't get anything for them – it's all about the first game away at Preston.”
Bar those opening 11 minutes at Exeter, Norwich have yet to concede a goal. Those three subsequent victories – albeit against Lowestoft, Lynn and Apeldoorn – have seen three, straight wins and 18 goals scored. So far, so good.
“You don't want to lose your pre-season games,” said Drury. “And if you can win them, it breeds confidence. And at the minute we're doing OK, so we've got to keep that going.”
And nor was Drury surprised that a certain J Cureton's name was figuring large on the scoresheet. “That's to be expected – Jamie's a great lad; mixes in well – I knew him anyway before he came back – and he'll always get you goals. And he'll get goals again this season.”
If he could just share them about with his new Czech mate David Strihavka all would be well with the world. “He does need that first goal and he tries so hard to mingle with the lads. But he doesn't speak great English – as you probably already know – but he's learning and he's trying his hardest to be part of the group and part of the lads.”
At the other end and the newly-arrived David Marshall has barely had a save to make in either of his two appearances. “I think he had a couple of goal-kicks and that was it.
“Obviously from our point of view as defenders, that's great it's like that – but it's more important that it's like that when the season starts.”
Work on the basis that Luke Chadwick nips in ahead of Lee Croft for the trip to Deepdale and that Darren Huckerby's groin niggle keeps him sidelined, then Drury could be one of just three survivors from the Nigel Worthington regime that could reasonably be expected to start – one of two if City boss Peter Grant fills the vacant No5 shirt in the meantime. That would leave Drury and Jason Shackell as the last Nigel men standing – that's no mean feat to find nine new starters in little more than nine months.
For better or worse, the 2007-2008 City team will be Grant's. Drury wasn't taking anything for granted – he's now got Simon Lappin for company, after all.
“Yes – you could do. But everybody's got competition for their places. I think there's two players for almost every position, maybe three in some cases so the gaffer's got to make his mind up – and there's some hard decisions to be made. But better that way than having to go with whoever's fit like we did last year at times.”
But if the tour to Holland is all about the final auditions, those two Carrow Road clashes are the final dress rehearsals – the last chance to ensure that the Canaries are word-perfect come Deepdale on August 11.
“Although these games are good for fitness, they're not really realistic. You can see the tempo; the way its played. And the way that they play football. It's when we get home – that's when it properly starts and the games really kick in.”
Granty's anger was understandable; these days it seems it's always the club that is last to know when a player – or a coach – is about to get away.
And, likewise, as soon as anyone reveals that their mind is elsewhere, then fair enough – get them away.
As much as anyone tends to distance themselves from any Worthy quote these days, he had a thing about bad apples in barrels; picking it out before the rest of the barrel festers. And Granty is of exactly the same mind.
The trouble, to old Ferret's mind at least, is that he didn't stay on the phone long enough to ask the departing Hunter just what job he'd got at Vicarage Road.
And it's an important question. Because you wonder whether if it was a case of three proving a crowd at Colney as the gaffer, Duffy and Hunter stood on each other's coaching toes, where that might leave old Malky as and when Hunter arrives at Watford.
For after a back-room clear-out last season, Aidy Boothroyd actually elevated the big-hearted 35-year-old to his first-team coach – a role you can only think that Hunter's about to snaffle up. Or does Malky get the No2 manager gig? Move more upstairs and let Martin do his stuff on the training field.
It is a very interesting question. Because if Aidy's little raid on Colney puts Malky's nose well out of joint, you can't help but wonder whether he might look rather more closely at the new situation vacant back in Norfolk…
He is, after all, still one of Granty's No1 pals and muttered something about wanting to see the Premiership season out at Vicarage Road when last the Norwich link was mentioned.
And then there's the small matter of his contract position. Has he signed on for another year? If memory serves, he signed a two-year deal when he made the switch from West Ham United a couple of seasons ago. And with another former native of these parts – ex-Canary skipper Matt Jackson – on board at Watford already, you can only wonder how many games Malky will get to play this season.
I think an opportunity might knock there. That's why I would keep a close eye on that official Watford website and see just what position, exactly, Hunter is about to be granted.
Because if it is, indeed, first team coach, then that – potentially – leaves old Malky right out in the cold. And we all know who would offer him a very warm welcome back into the fold, don't we?
myfootballwriter's pre-season tour is sponsored by aggbag.co.uk