A new stadium on Tuesday night for your roving preseason reporter: The Hive, home to the Bees of Barnet.
After the dubious honour of preseason reporting assignments at Luton (twice – what’s anyone done to deserve that?) and Cambridge United (where the hosts showed an excess of brawn rather than brain), this was a rather pleasant one.
That’s to say, the stadium is pleasant: part of a new complex with better toilets than most league grounds – infinitely better than Luton’s – plus a fully-fledged Starbucks.
Most important of all, on a night more like November than July, our seats were safely under cover.
Before getting to business, a disclaimer. Reporting on preseason games, I try to pick out City players who might make a special impact on the season proper. With distinctly mixed success: some of my picks have gone on to star, others have faded to invisibility.
That reflects my erratic judgement, of course. But also the nature of early preseason; it’s a useful part of preparation, but it’s really not quite like the real thing. Tuesday’s game exemplified why.
Quite apart from playing a completely different 11 in each half, City were giving extra time off to most of our internationals. So there was no sign of Angus Gunn, Shane Duffy, Kenny McLean, Josh Sargent or Adam Idah.
Gabby Sara was also absent – in his case, we learn, recovering from an appendix operation.
Max Aarons is with the England Under-21s, Andrew Omobamidele coming back from injury. (Even if they were available, perhaps they’d have been left out for other reasons.)
It was also too friendly to judge how far we’ve added the mental strength and steel that seem to me top priorities after last season. Every successful team needs the resilience and leadership – and a bit of devil – which we so conspicuously lacked last year, especially after Grant Hanley’s injury.
I’m expecting Ashley Barnes, Jack Stacey and Duffy to help provide it. Even in the muted atmosphere of Tuesday’s game, the leadership qualities of the first two were apparent – especially Barnes who’s a natural organiser and encourager (and never complained, even at the rather worrying lack of service he received).
So who and what else might we watch out for? In the first half, Jon Tomkinson showed some Omobamidele-like composure at centre-back. Przemyslaw Placheta (once we figured out who he was) showed keenness to impress – as did Jon Rowe, who capped a lively performance with a sharp finish. It’s good to see him back.
Jacob Sorensen was hard to assess. He played in midfield, but not the deep-lying position we think might be his best (a role given to Marcelino Nunez in the second half).
Other than Stacey who looks as if he’ll bolster our physicality and athleticism, Abu Kamara stood out in the second half for his willing runs. Technically, Nunez stood a class above everyone else on the pitch, in either half.
On the concerning side, Bali Mumba has an infectious attitude but his defensive positioning isn’t for the faint-hearted. In fact, last season’s inability to stop crosses was in evidence again – not something we want to see when the real games start.
Christos Tzolis was almost invisible until he missed a sitter. I really want him to win us over, but there’s work for him to do.
Going forward, we were more fluent and threatening in the second half than the first, despite less familiar names in the line-up. Clearly, there’ll be a different look to our forwards – and a different role for Barnes – when Sargent and Adam Idah are involved.
One obvious part of Wagner’s tactical approach: he wants quicker transition from defence to attack, especially using the flanks. Who his starting wingers will be (Borja Sainz, for instance, wasn’t involved last night) remains to be seen.
In summary, then, City’s absentees and the nature of the game make it difficult to draw too many conclusions. The score (1-1) is pretty irrelevant. But certainly a useful workout against enthusiastic, though thankfully not brutal, opponents.
And Barnes – one of the players who happily chatted and posed for photos with the travelling fans afterwards – is undoubtedly the type of character we missed last season.
In addition to the players missing on Tuesday, Wagner hinted that our transfer business is far from complete this summer. We can only guess what positions are being prioritised, but fair to assume that Stuart Webber is working hard behind the scenes.
Let’s watch this space.
Final note: it seems players have basically kept their squad numbers from last year. With one striking exception – Liam Gibbs, who’s traded up from 46 to 8. Let’s hope he has better luck with it than Isaac Hayden did.