The return of Darren Huckerby after his summer-long groin problems is likely to swell interest in tonight's opening reserve team fixture of the season as the much-maligned Pontins Holiday Combination (East) swings into gear again.
This evening's Carrow Road opener against Luton Town Reserves (7.30pm) is the first of just 18 games this season with the might of Stevenage Borough Reserves and Grays Athletic second string due to enhance the education of Norwich Academy starlets – as well as keeping the returning members of Peter Grant's first team on their match toes.
“The whole Reserve league set-up has not had the best of Press,” admitted City's Academy chief Ricky Martin, who following Keith Webb's exit for King's Lynn last season now shoulders much of the responsibility for Norwich's Pontins Holiday Combination (East) ambitions.
“And if you're not too careful, you can ened up just ticking these games and thinking: 'Yep, there goes another season…' and it becomes both a waste of playing time and, for the boys, a waste of their development time,” said Martin, clearly determined to make the best of a bad job as the Premier League boys run off with the ball and compete in their own Premier Reserve League – Howard Wilkinson's original blue-print for an Under-21 Academy League that included all clubs with an Academy set-up in place having long since bitten the dust.
In fairness, tonight's Carrow Road clash with the Hatters' second string promises to be a more than useful exercise for City boss Grant as Huckerby eases himself slowly back into first team contention with this evening's first, competitive run-out.
And while the 31-year-old is widely acknowledged to have an exceptional base fitness level, whether 45 minutes or so in the Pontins Holidays Combination would put him in line for a start against Hull City on Saturday is open to debate. It should, however, put him very close to the bench if all goes according to plan.
This evening's game also finds the likes of David Strihavka, Chris Martin, Matty Gilks and Luke Chadwick topping up their match sharpness – hence the fact that Canary coach Jim Duffy will join Martin on the sidelines as Grant maintains a keen eye on events from the stand.
“It's actually very rare to have 11 professional players all starting the game and that being the case, Jim (Duffy) will probably lead the game tonight,” said Martin.
“There will be things that he'll have worked on with the players during the week that he'll want to see in the game, things like that,” said Martin, just returned from over-seeing an Under-18 trip to France in which the teenage Canaries missed out on a place in the finals by a point.
What is clear is that such a strong reserve team line-up is likely to be a feature of the Carrow Road games; away trips to Grays and Stevenage might not find Huckerby and Co boarding the bus for a night out in deepest Essex.
“I have to admit I'm quite looking forward to those games – just as much as the home games against your Ipswichs, Colchesters and Southends,” said Martin, with the visits of your Arsenals, Tottenhams and Chelseas now a distant memory.
“Because, for me, it'll be very much like a cup game,” he added – the equivalent in reserve and Academy terms of City's FA Cup trip to the Lamb Ground, Tamworth.
“Are they going to be mentally tough enough not only to compete, but then to have the composure and the confidence to go out and express themselves and show everyone what they can do?” asked Martin.
Grant's presence in the stands tonight should certainly sharpen up everyone's interest. The City manager has long made it clear that people's capacity to show willing on nights like these can have a big bearing on his thoughts come a Saturday.
And while certain players – Huckerby and Strihavka, for example – will clearly figure large in his thinking in the run-up to this weekend's trip to the KC Stadium, for the likes of your Chris Martins, Michael Spillanes and Ryan Jarvis' attitude will be everything as they look to force their way firmly into Grant's thoughts.
Martin admits that the new set-up isn't ideal – there are, for example, only 18 games during the course of the season.
“Are there enough games? That's a good question,” said Martin. “There can sometimes be too much of a gap.
“But then you can get the situation where the first team are invloved in a good Carling Cup run, the youth team are involved in an FA Youth Cup run and you're stretching for numbers – it's a really hard balance,” said Martin.
With a bigger squad – certainly one now swollen by a clutch of 24 and 25-year-olds – the chances are that the Reserve set-up should become the natural home of the Cave-Browns, Spillanes and Eagles which, given their age and experience, is probably about right.
All of which should ensure that the Canaries do not have to delve into the ranks of Easton College youngsters to actually put a Reserve team together.
Martin has also already started to put the feelers out for one or two “ad hoc” friendlies as and when the occasion demands. “That's what we'll be looking to do – to have a pool of clubs that would be quite willing to play a game on an ad hoc basis occasionally.”
That's when your Spurs Reserves might grace Norfolk again. Otherwise until the Canaries get their foot back in that Premiership door, its Luton, Colchester and crew for the forseeable future.
City Reserves: Gilks, Cave-Brown, Spillane, Halliday, Eagle, Chadwick, Rossi Jarvis, Martin, Huckerby, Strihavka, Ryan Jarvis.