The cotton wool will come off French midfielder Julien Brellier tonight as the Canaries play host to their one-time UEFA Cup opponents Vitesse Arnhem in City's final pre-season game of the summer.
Brellier has made just one appearance in City colours since his free transfer arrival from Hearts – a 45 minute run-out at The Walks in which he picked up a slight thigh strain.
It was enough to rule him out of both games in Holland and again for Tuesday night's near sell-out home clash with West Ham United.
But having resumed full-time training this week and with the opening game of the season away at Preston North End just eight days distant, City boss Peter Grant clearly feels it is now time to bolt one of his central pieces into place.
“Julien will start the game – at least that's the way I'm thinking, at the moment,” said Grant.
“He will definitely play part of the game – and I think from his own, psychological point of view it's important that he gets to play at least part of the game.
“The players can see his quality in training, but he now needs game-time; he needs match-time. So having him play part of the game will be a big plus.”
It will also give Mark Fotheringham a rare night off after the one-time Celtic starlet has found himself virtually running the shop in the injury absence of both Brellier and on-loan Chelsea 20-year-old Jimmy Smith and, of course, as the Youssef Safri saga unfolded.
That finally ended yesterday with his switch to Southampton.
“It's a massive weight off my shoulders – it was becoming a problem that I didn't need,” said Grant, after his 'pack of lies' speech brought matters firmly to a head on Tuesday night.
Wittingly or not, it worked a treat as a few minds were finally concentrated on getting Safri away – leaving the manager to work with rather more of a clean slate. One that now has Brellier moving onto centre stage.
“I'm absolutely delighted that the whole thing worked out so quickly,” said Grant, who but for George Burley's timely arrival would have had a big decision to make going into tonight's game. Throwing Safri into the fray for even the last 20 minutes would have been an interesting test of the crowd's reaction to their one-time favourite.
As it is, that may now have to wait a fortnight when Southampton make their first away trip of the new season – to Carrow Road.
In the meantime Brellier is likely to have Darel Russell for a partner tonight as the returning City midfielder also gains more game-time.
“We'll give Darel more tme tonight; we'll probably rest Fozzy (Fotheringham). He's done a lot of work just through us not having the bodies in there.
“And then we'll see how the front two boys are – they spent a lot of time chasing shadows on Tuesday night.”
With Norwich barely able to get hold of the ball as the Hammers let rip for the opening 45 minutes, chances for either David Strihavka or Jamie Cureton to impress were thin on the ground.
If Grant had one big decision left – other than what becomes of that vacant No5 shirt – then it is probably Chis Brown versus Strihavka for that second striker role alongside Cureton.
Simon Lappin will also be available tonight after missing the Hammers game with a slight thigh strain. The one that is left in cotton wool is Darren Huckerby. Safety first appears to be the manager's mantra on eve of battle.
“Hucks is a difficult one,” admitted Grant, with the two-time City Player of the Season dogged by a niggling groin issue that saw him sent home from Holland for treatment.
The prognosis then was a week to ten days and then he could resume training. Some ten days later and Huckerby is likely to be there or thereabouts – itching to get on stage and to run through a few of his lines in the final dress rehearsal.
“I know what his enthusiasm is like – he's desperate to play,” said Grant. “If it was a cup final then maybe; but if he's not 100 per cent, do you take that chance? At this moment in time, I don't think so.”
Vitesse will offer a difficult challenge again from the Hammers; expect a much more cagey encounter than the one that had the Canaries rocking firmly back on their heels in those opening 20 minutes.
“Whereas West Ham were all power, pace and movement, we know what Dutch teams are like,” said the City chief.
“They'll be much slower in their build-up; it'll be much more of technical challenge. But, we know, that if you give them too much time and space on the ball then they can pick holes in you.”
The biggest result will to come through tonight's final, warm-up contest with no more injuries. Dion Dublin is likely to miss out with a slight niggle, but if Brellier can get at least 45 minutes under his belt and everyone else comes through unscathed then to arrive at the doors of Deepdale next week with just Jimmy Smith on the casualty list, then Grant will be breathing a sigh of relief.
“If that's the situation come August 11, then I'll be absolutely delighted,” said Grant.
One other point to note tonight will be the role assigned to Luke Chadwick. So far this summer, the fit-again midfielder has played wide right, wide left and in behind the front two – and all to reasonably good effect.
Whether he is just keeping Huckerby's slot warm and will be returned to the right come the big kick-off will be interesting to watch; likewise, the availability of Lappin again might give Grant the opportunity to restore his much-loved balance on the left and leave Chadwick to switch back to the right – and all with Lee Croft snapping at his heels.
Throw in the Brown versus Strihavka debate and if nothing else, Norwich have genuine competition for places – something that you couldn't always claim at this stage of the summer.
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