City chief Chris Hughton knows exactly what pre-season friendlies are all about at this stage of pre-season – going into summer battle with 22 fit, first team players and coming out of said battle with 22 fit, first team players.
Which, therefore, makes this weekend’s 3-2 defeat by Hertha Berlin a case of ‘Mission Accomplished’.
“It was a good challenge and a good test for us,” the Canary boss told the club’s official website afterwards. “But it’s about coming out of it unscathed – as we have done injury-wise.”
It somehow summed up the luckless reign of Peter Grant that his first pre-season tour game in Holland found newly-arrived Chelsea loan signing Jimmy Smith succumbing to a lengthy ankle injury within the game’s opening 20 minutes.
Such events can cast a long shadow over such weeks away. For the Canaries to have come out of their week-long training camp in Austria without such an early casualty is a definite positive as they now prepare to renew old friendships with Celtic in Glasgow on Tuesday night.
“They were brighter than us in the first-half,” explained Hughton, as a hat-trick from Hertha’s Elias Kachunga rocked Norwich onto the back-foot.
Two goals after the break from James Vaughan pulled City within sights of their opponents; more than that it will have done wonders for the striker’s confidence after enduring such a miserable season injury-wise last year.
To deliver such goods in front of the new management team will have given Hughton and Co a pleasant point to ponder – particularly now that they have new-boy Jacob Butterfield gearing up to stake a claim for that second striker’s berth.
With Chrissy Martin back in the building following his spell out on loan at Crystal Palace and Simeon Jackson also in the frame, the competition to partner either skipper Grant Holt or Steve Morison is already building in intensity – well before Hughton considers reaching for his cheque book to add to his strike armoury.
For now it would appear that the new chief is happy to maintain his watching brief – looking and learning as to what, exactly, is at his disposal courtesy of Paul Lambert’s canny forays into the Football League transfer market.
It is one of the beauties of Hughton’s inheritance that it does not need radical surgery and complete re-invention; the odd, subtle tweak and gentle development is more likely the name of the game this summer.
If it ain’t that broke, don’t try and completely fix it…
Hughton deployed 22 players over the course of yesterday’s contest; 45 minutes of competitive match-play for all concerned.
That alone suggests an even playing field; everyone has the same opportunity to show the boss what they are capable of; where their summer fitness levels are.
Bit by bit will he build a better understanding of who and what he needs to get his new regime off to a flier next month.
“What we wanted to get from it was a little bit of rhythm – and we’ll be able to determine how had [the players] have run and how much of a physical test it has been when we get the data back,” he added.
“We now need to go into the Celtic game in the same vein and looking to improve on our fitness levels.”
The good news for new-boy Steven Whittaker is that his temporary international clearance from FIFA has come through – allowing the long-time Rangers star the chance to build on this weekend’s first friendly outing with a second at Celtic Park on Tuesday night. Where, no doubt, he will receive a warm welcome back to Glasgow.
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