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Canaries pass character test in university town

PUBLISHED: 10:56 21 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:58 06 July 2010

A pensive Bryan Gunn during City's game against St Johnstone. City won all three Scottish tour matches. Picture: David Lamb

A pensive Bryan Gunn during City's game against St Johnstone. City won all three Scottish tour matches. Picture: David Lamb

When the true extent of Norwich City's relegation began to dawn and Bryan Gunn began the task of rebuilding his squad, the word "character" inevitably punctuated every conversation with rather more frequency than is the norm.

When the true extent of Norwich City's relegation began to dawn and Bryan Gunn began the task of rebuilding his squad, the word "character" inevitably punctuated every conversation with rather more frequency than is the norm.

The City manager's task was to find players with the moral fibre to actually go out there and do an honest afternoon's work for employers - and fans - who pay their wages 52 weeks a year. Not the ones who rely on you for 90pc of their salary and a nice hotel for three months while their parent club pays the rest.

Gunn would allow those who believed they could earn a living somewhere more salubrious than League One to find new homes, while other tenures at Carrow Road would come to the end of their natural life.

That left him with three categories of player: the ones who promised to do better this season; the young bloods who have come up through the ranks; and the new signings.

Gunn's job is to make sure all three gel into one unit, so to help him along the way he did what all football clubs do around this time of year and took them on a working holiday.

The university town of St Andrews in Scotland was the base for most of last week, when young and old and new joined together in what is supposed to be perfect harmony, building friendships and working relationships.

Gunn - who has probably been on more pre-season tours than he cares to remember - spent much of last week watching from the sidelines as Ian Butterworth and Ian Crook took the training sessions.

From the sidelines, usually with his mobile phone pressed firmly to his ear as he kept track of transfer dealings, he was able to watch the bonding of all these irregular characters taking place, a footballing osmosis - Matt Gill and Owain Tudur Jones; Gary Doherty and Dario Dumic; Michael Nelson and David Stephens; triallists and old hand; fresh-faced Academy youngster and experienced senior pro, and many more.

Gunn has many permutations and pairings that need to work together if Norwich City are to be a successful League One side next season. One week in Scotland won't turn City from last season's major league flops to next season's League One wonders. But it was a start.

City's training sessions at Colney are generally open to the public, depending on which day of the week you want to watch them - if the media began to join the audience, you can bet your bottom dollar that the open-door policy would be reviewed pretty sharpish. Which is why we generally don't head for Colney in the same way our predecessors did at Trowse many moons ago.

Therefore, watching them at St Andrews - alongside a smattering of travelling fans and occasionally Dundee United players who frequent the same fields but on a more regular basis - was an eye-opener. It wasn't full-blown by any means, but the friendly nature of the work-outs is what helps relationships grow.

There were laughs - goalkeeping coach Paul Crichton's chest being blown free of all oxygen by a Stephens' shot had Crook - "There is a God," said the Romford-Sydney voice - doubled up with laughter.

Crook, Crichton and Gunn playing some sort of bowls game with footballs was an education, not into the game itself but into how competitive football people are. And that was key at St Andrews - amid all the laughter there was an awful lot of hard work and an awful lot of competition.

In a three-against-two game Jamie Cureton's face was a picture of despair as twice he claimed for handball, and twice Crook shouted 'play on'.

The atmosphere would suggest that Gunn has got it right as far as the characters of his playing staff are concerned, although what happens in the inner sanctum we can only guess.

The playing fields are one thing, the doors of the university halls of residence another. Let's not be fooled here: this is only cobweb-clearing work, so there's no guarantee that what we saw in training is actually reflective of what will happen when the players get down to the serious business.

Much like the three matches, they are possibly not a true reflection of what will happen next season. If the players trust each other implicitly, are made of 100pc the right stuff and bond like a limpet to a rock, then fine. We won't know that for a while yet. Just as we won't know whether the team can go and win three matches on the trot, something which they failed to do last season.

The plus points? Dumic and Stephens look very decent; Tom Adeyemi is surely a star in the making; Wes Hoolahan can prise open a tin of sardines with boxing gloves on; Michael Nelson is a rock; Gill and Tudur Jones might just have something going in midfield; Goran Maric is worth a punt and Paul McVeigh has still got some of the old magic.

The downside? City scored five goals on tour - but Wes Hoolahan's opener against Airdrie was the only one scored by a contracted Norwich City player; Cody McDonald was restricted to 17 minutes' action because of a knee problem while Korey Smith and Luke Daley didn't even make it on to a pitch because of injuries.

Raith Rovers, St Johnstone and Airdrie were all beaten, the first opponents providing the most resistance, although you'd put your money on City to beat any of them every time if it were for something serious, like three league points. If that suggests that it was too easy, then think again.

It's a warm-up, the first cup of tea of the day, something to get you going in preparation for a tough day ahead.

In City's case, a Manchester United XI, Crystal Palace and Wigan - in theory an upward curve that started at Raith's Starks Park ground last Tuesday and ends at Carrow Road on August 1.

The first three games suggest Gunn has got a decent mix, the next three games are meant to confirm that.

But it's only what happens after August 8 that really matters.

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