New City skipper Jason Shackell today insisted that being everyone's under-dogs for a pop at promotion suits the Canaries just fine.
The News Of The World got that under-whelmed ball rolling at the weekend when they pencilled the re-built Carrow Road side in for a 16th finish in ten, gruelling months time.
Above Ipswich Town, but below two of the Championship new-boys Bristol City and Blackpool – and a further three behind this Saturday's opening opponents, Preston North End.
“A few of the boys have been reading in the papers that we're expected to finish 16th, 15th… but that's not a problem to us,” said the 23-year-old, who will lead Norwich into '07-08 battle at Deepdale this Saturday.
“And being the slight underdogs might be an advantage,” he added. “We're looking forward to it – we're quietly optimistic about this season and we just want to try and get off to a good start at Preston.”
It is not the easiest of starts; Preston have been round The Championship block often enough to know just what you need to do to try and get out of this division.
In theory, it helps if you have someone of David Nugent's ability floating about the place; in practice, bolting ex-Luton Town skipper Kevin Nicholls into the middle of your team, as Nugent grabs a summer ticket out of Deepdale and on into the Premiership, is likely to be a bigger plus point.
Nicholls' match-up with Julien Brellier is likely to be one of the more entertaining match-ups of the afternoon if City's newly-arrived Frenchman lives up to his Hearts reputation; which one stays on the pitch the longest could yet do much to decide which way the contest go. It's not a game for shrinking violets, in short.
“It'll be a tough game. But things are going well; we've prepared well; we're all looking forward to it,” said Shackell, seeing few easy games between here and next May.
“Like everybody says, year on and year on, it's getting stronger and stronger. You've got the three teams that have come down that are all going to be very strong and then you've got a good eight, ten or twelve that could all hit the play-offs.
“So there's no easy game nowadays in the Champioship; every game is going to be tough and we've got to make sure that we're fully focussed on the first one to the last one, to be honest.”
He, at least, appears to have avoided whatever was floating around at last Sunday's summer barbecue. Darel Russell was also fielding questions at Colney this morning; Frenchman Julien Brellier was also expected to be available at Carrow Road this afternoon.
To say that the Canaries have had a little 'hic-cup' of late fitness-wise is probably under-stating the violent effects of whatever was in the air at Colney, but the new City skipper sees little reason to knock the confidence currently doing the rounds in the dressing room.
“I think all the boys are very optimistic – we've got a good squad together. Most people are fit – bar one or two – and everybody's looking forward to it and we think we can do well.”
It promises to be a big season for the home-grown centre-half. At 23 he is about to enter his footballing prime. And with the added responsibility of the captain's armband, 2007-2008 should give the best indication yet of where Shackell's professional football career is leading.
Darren Huckerby, for one, has long maintained that Shackell has enough in his locker to make the next leap up – to play in the Premiership. All he has to do is to step up to the plate…
“I'm fine – looking forward to Saturday and raring to go, to be honest,” said Shackell, as Peter Grant's decision to hand him the skipper's role finally sinks in.
“It was a little bit of a surprise – but a very nice one,” said Shackell, who led Norwich out for their very first pre-season friendly of the summer – away at Exeter City less than four short weeks ago.
He clearly realises that he has to grow into the role; to pick up that gauntlet and accept the responsibility.
“Like I've said to everybody it's a great honour,” he said. “People think its going to improve me as a player and, hopefully, I can grow; make sure I keep my game good and help others around me.
“I've just got to make sure, first and foremost, that my game's right. And once it's right then, hopefully, I can take on the captaincy by helping others and maybe bossing one or two about…”
It was, he said, a long-held dream come true.
“It's been an ambition of mine – I've always wanted to lead the team out and now I'm going to get that opportunity and I've got to make sure that I grab it with both hands,” said Shackell, with the likes of Dion Dublin, Huckerby and Adam Drury all on hand to offer their advice and support.
In the meantime, however, all eyes fix on Deepdale. And while the new Canary skipper might have his heart set on the big prize, many might see a 0-0 as a job done on the opening day of the season.
It would, at least, suggest that Norwich might, just, be curing some of their more alarming defensive wobbles – and all, you strongly suspect, with another defensive addition to walk into the building before August 31.
“We've got to go to Preston looking to get the three points – everybody wants to get a good start and they'll be looking to do the same,” said Shackell, not unduly bothered about adding to his own personal goal tally at Deepdale. He has scored on both his last two visits – one against Preston in last season's narrow, 2-1 defeat; one for Preston in the 2-0 defeat the season before as two own-goals from both Norwich centre-halves presented the home side with the points in typically comical fashion.
“We need to be keeping clean sheets and if we're keeping clean sheets we'll be happy…”
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