Norwich City exactly where we'd want them
PUBLISHED: 10:55 27 July 2009 | UPDATED: 11:04 06 July 2010
So far, so good. Five senior pre-season games, four wins and a draw, and a lot of those round holes have round pegs in them. The evidence from Dartford, Scotland and Saturday's first appearance at Carrow Road, against a young Manchester United XI, is that Bryan Gunn has quickly settled down to the art form that is dealing in the transfer market.
So far, so good.
Five senior pre-season games, four wins and a draw, and a lot of those round holes have round pegs in them.
The evidence from Dartford, Scotland and Saturday's first appearance at Carrow Road, against a young Manchester United XI, is that Bryan Gunn has quickly settled down to the art form that is dealing in the transfer market. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, of course, but the early signs appear to be good. At this stage, this is perhaps where you'd want City to be.
Gunn appears to have brought in players capable of doing a job in League One, and the fact that they will all, sooner or later, be living in Norwich, shopping in Norwich, and tied to Norwich City for the foreseeable future is evidence of how much consideration has gone into getting the club back on to an even keel after last season's disasters.
Loan players aren't a bad thing and it's probably not their fault that they are unable to commit themselves fully, without fail, to the cause of a temporary paymaster.
Much better a permanent band of brothers than players who are forgotten just a few weeks after departure.
Gunn doesn't have shed loads of money to splash out, which is why he has paid transfer fees for less than half of his new permanent signings - Grant Holt, Owain Tudur Jones, Rhoys Wiggins and Simon Whaley were contracted to other clubs, while Stephen Hughes, Paul McVeigh, Matt Gill, Michael Nelson and Michael Theoklitos were free agents.
The current squad has three more matches in which to bed in, gel together and claim a starting place - and not one of them would bet their Range Rover on running out against Colchester United at 3pm on August 8. Every position is up for grabs, so those who sat out all or most of Saturday's game will head to Crystal Palace tomorrow night desperate to prove themselves.
Gunn has selected his pre-season match schedule carefully, so that the degree of difficulty rises at a steady rate until Wigan arrive in Norwich a week before the season opens to give his men the final and, presumably, the most severe test (although like all pre-season matches, it is so difficult to gauge just how far either team is pushing itself).
The team Gunn sends out is likely to be fairly close to the one to face Colchester.
So who's hot and who's cold? Actually, change cold to lukewarm, because no one has really stood out as having made a dog's dinner of their claims.
Theoklitos will appear in goal at some stage - reports from Australia suggest Gunn has done some smart business there - with on-loan Ben Alnwick as back-up, and teenagers Declan Rudd and Jed Steer straining at the leash.
The back four will need these next three games just to tidy themselves up. A few too many balls have found their way down the middle of the big two in the middle, although that's perhaps the price you pay in pre-season for mixing and matching. Gary Doherty and Nelson are favourites for the central berths, although triallist Jens Berthel Askou hasn't looked out of place - and young Academy products Dario Dumic and David Stephens are certainly ones for the future.
And don't forget Dejan Stefanovic, still working his way back from injury - what does the future hold for him, given that he's not exactly the most financially viable player to have on your books?
The unlucky Adam Drury, Simon Lappin and new boy Wiggins contest left back, while Jon Otsemobor and Michael Spillane fight for the right back slot. Otsemobor's pace is unlikely to be matched in League One and even on Saturday he proved there is often little need to make a tackle when you can suddenly appear out of nowhere and nick the ball off a striker's toes. Used properly it can be a lethal weapon - and in League One he should be more comfortable than he was at times last season.
Midfield is fun if you play "Selecta Team".
Let's start in the middle - Tudur Jones, Gill and Hughes appear to be fighting it out, with Matty Pattison perhaps on the fringes of the debate. Then along comes the beefed-up Tom Adeyemi to put a spanner in the works.
Adeyemi has a vital weapon - he can score goals from midfield, as he showed at the weekend, teaming up well with Tudur Jones on Saturday, the former Swansea man nicking some good possession and doing the simple stuff well.
Gill had a cracker against Raith last week while Hughes has yet to be seen - and poor old Korey Smith, who came out of the debacle at Charlton on last season's final day with his pride intact, has been struck down by injury which has restricted him to watching the action from the sidelines.
Sammy Clingan's gone and Darel Russell appears set to follow - if he doesn't then how do you treat someone who clearly wants away? Last week the pair of them trained on their own - a sure sign of their standing.
On the flanks there's McVeigh - whose re-appearance at Carrow Road on Saturday got the biggest cheer of the day - and Whaley, with Pattison, Lappin and Wes Hoolahan on the other side. Nice to see Pattison back in favour, although he, like Lappin, may struggle to get a start.
McVeigh has shown some of his old magic in pre-season, but it's Hoolahan who has shone - when he went off at half-time on Saturday there was no one else able to spot those darting forward runs, to do something different. Perhaps Gunn will play him behind the front two, where he does so much damage.
When Holt joined on Friday, Gunn finally got the target man that City have been missing for too long - Dion Dublin was great up there, but age was catching up with him and before that we had Iwan Roberts, of course. Others like Carl Cort and Chris Killen tried and failed while Gunn couldn't tempt Alan Lee back on a permanent basis.
In 10 minutes on Saturday, Holt won all his headers: he's fierce and takes few prisoners - he may need a PG certificate at times, but he's effective.
So who plays off him? If Goran Maric signs he's a possible. He may be six-foot plus but he has a touch of style and what's the harm in having two bigguns in attack?
Jamie Cureton, Cody McDonald, Chris Martin - triallist Kris Bright even - all have claims. Cureton scored twice at Dartford, the second a brilliant chip, but hesitancy cost him another on Saturday.
McDonald has a knee injury and has hardly featured, which is bad luck on a player of whom so much is expected on the back of just one start and half a dozen appearances off the bench last season - even though he did look the business at times.
Martin has shown up well in pre-season - like Cureton he was lively early on at the weekend - and you do get the feeling there is something special to come from him.
But that promise is an unknown quantity, much the same as the squad Gunn has put together.