Despite not being big on pre-season friendlies I was unable to resist the call of what’s now known as the Amber Dew Events Stadium – the Crown Meadow to you and I.
Rarely does a Lowestoftian (it’s a proper word, promise you) get the chance to watch City without experiencing the joys of the A146 or Acle Straight, so it had to be done and as friendlies go it was decent value for the now departed tenner.
What was one year ago billed at Micky Champman’s testimonial – but was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch – still had the same title, yet other than a thoroughly deserved guard of honour for the man himself this was every inch another step on the road to full fitness rather than a celebration.
And to be honest it was one in the eye for folk like me who generally scoff at the entertainment value of friendlies, because under the new City regime there were sub-plots aplenty unraveling as most of us enjoyed our first glimpse of the future.
But context is everything in the relatively gentle run outs that occur in the first couple of weeks of pre-season. Lowestoft were game, more than game in fact, but with the best will in the world offered only a limited test compared to what will unfold on August 5.
This, for City, was an exercise in putting a few more miles in the fitness bank and having another crack at perfecting the 4-1-4-1 formation that Daniel Farke clearly prefers; one, it seems, that can quickly morph in to a fluid 4-3-3 when the time is right.
Interestingly, the late withdrawal of Timm Klose – due to a niggle that became apparent in the the morning’s training session – served to highlight again just how low on numbers City are in that area of the pitch, and with no Russell Martin to turn to (he’s yet to start his pre-season) it was left to Ben Godfrey to slot in alongside the gargantuan Christoph Zimmerman.
Work is clearly ongoing to address this very obvious and overly-discussed deficiency and it’s clear that some of the Jonny Howson millions (it was £6m, not £5m by the way) will be utilised to bring in competition for Zimmerman and Klose – if indeed the latter is still around on September 1.
Zimmerman, other than looking ‘a unit’, did pretty much as you would expect and to hear his voice echoing around the Meadow all afternoon as he barked orders to those in front of him was oddly comforting, especially given the very obvious lack of leadership that befell our defensive unit last season.
And I’m able to confirm that despite being 8′11″ his turning circle is considerably less that that of the QE2, and he appears too to be no slouch. Lowestoft, for the most part, were unable to put him under any great pressure but based only on what unfolded yesterday, despite being from the German fourth tier, he has the makings of a commanding Championship centre-back.
But only time will tell.
Of the other new faces, Harrison Reed was probably the pick with a highly promising afternoon playing as the ‘guard’ to the back-four.
He’s not big, and it’s already been determined that ‘terrier’ and ‘pocket rocket’ will be the nouns of choice when referring to him, but with the Farke way clearly being to patiently work it across the back line until an opening can be worked to play it short through the midfield, his role in the side will be literally pivotal.
And – added bonus time – he already knows his new team-mates’ names. That he was able to get up and limp away from an over-the-top challenge from Town’s Callum Bishop was also a bonus; hopefully it’ll be confirmed that there is no serious damage.
The other two newbies – Marley Watkins and Mario Vrancic – both did enough to whet the appetite for what may unfold in the next few months, the latter in possession of a left foot that, in my dad’s vernacular, could be used to ‘open a tin of beans’.
Despite these being very early days, one gets the distinct impression that neither are here to make up the numbers. Both are now beyond their mid-20s, both appear to have an inherent hunger, and both will be in a hurry. Just how Stuart Webber likes them.
Elsewhere, it was notable that Jamal Lewis has edged himself into contention, arguably ahead of Harry Toffolo, at left-back, and cuts a very composed and mature figure alongside more illustrious names.
That Webber is in for another left-back is certainly no secret but the pecking order may not be as obvious as first appeared. Keep an eye on Lewis; that’d be my advice to anyone who wasn’t there yesterday.
In terms of the best of the rest, it was difficult to see past James Maddison who continues to impress at every turn. No longer the frail, diminutive youngster who we first spotted ripping it up in a Coventry shirt on YouTube, he’s matured into someone who doesn’t get knocked around and who’s equally comfortable travelling with the ball or picking a clever pass.
And with the 4-1-4-1 negating the need for one specific ‘number 10′, the use of a fluid midfield rotation could offer ample opportunity for Wes, Alex Pritchard and Maddison to all get the chance to shine. Just not all of them at the same time.
If I were permitted one prediction, it’d be that next summer our biggest concern will be getting top dollar for master Maddison.
Finally, it was good to see Nelson Oliveira playing his part and appearing unperturbed by the events of Friday night. I’m less inclined than some to dismiss the reported (and accepted) Reading bid as ‘nonsense’ but what does seem clear is that our Portuguese number 9 is in no hurry to depart. And right now that’s good enough for me.