Starting as they mean to go on? Let’s hope so.
It was the first match day of the EDS and Academy pre-season training camp yesterday and it couldn’t have gone better.
City’s under-18 and under-21 selections racked up ten goals between them in the two games and conceded no goals, but most pleasingly of all, both sides demonstrated sharpness, solidity and that all-important cutting edge in the way they dispatched their opponents.
It’s impossible to be in two places at once, so I haven’t had as many opportunities to watch the under-18s over the past week as I would have liked.
In some ways, this made the prospect of watching their morning game against NK Novigrad all the more enticing, especially seeing as there were so many players I’d only seen snippets of before.
What impressed me most about their 6-0 win over the local side was the way in which they wore the opposition down, building up momentum as the match went on.
By the time the last 20 minutes had rolled around, you felt as if Jason Wilcox’s side would score on their every attack as Novigrad looked out on their feet but that was testament to the patient work the team had put in earlier in the game.
It was a near complete team performance but there were some notable standout performers to these eyes.
There’s no doubt that the introduction of Spanish trickster Manu Garcia [below] from the bench took City’s play onto the next level but Charlie Oliver in defence and Marcus Wood in midfield also put in fine displays.
In the evening, it was the Elite Development Squad’s turn to get their pre-season calendar under way with an exhibition match against Slovenian outfit, NK Gorica.
It’s difficult to imagine many better places to watch football than the beautiful NK Novigrad Stadium, which, from the stands, looks out to the Adriatic Sea and it was a situation made even better by those sat around me.
EDS midfielder James Horsfield is currently on his way back from a slight groin strain so missed the game, but he still had an important role to play, joining me as a guest pundit for our Twitter coverage of the match.
Horsy chipped in with his tactical observations throughout the course of another hugely promising showing from City’s young starlets – good practice for a possible post-football role as a TV pundit.
I’m putting it out there early: he’s 2034’s Alan Hansen…
The most exciting aspect of the match was seeing the combinations from last year’s under-18 Northern Premier League champions blending and forming on-pitch bonds with the more experienced members of the team.
The long-standing Hiwula/Cole axis, which has been a winning feature right through the age-groups, looked in as good-a-shape as ever, as demonstrated with the excellent first goal of night where Devante teed up Jordy.
Hiwula’s hat-trick was no surprise to anyone on this trip – last season’s top-scorer has been in devastating goalscoring form in training and it was great to see him replicate it in a match scenario.
But for me, the night really belonged to the new EDS full-timers.
In the absence of usual centre-back pairing Shay Facey and Jason Denayer, Kean Bryan and Pablo Maffeo kept the defence locked down, even if they weren’t playing in the positions they’re most accustomed to.
It was also great to see Angus Gunn back between the sticks after his shoulder troubles last year, while Billy O’Brien came on and helped Patrick Vieira’s men finish the game with the clean sheet that was rarely in doubt.
Man, we're so good to you.
Those who played in the under-18s last year are used to winning football matches (like their manager) and, although City could be young in the u21 Premier League next year, this winning mentality could make up the difference.
Patrick has talked about wanting his players to show personality and character in the way they go about their work and, despite their modest years, they certainly did that, although tougher tests will surely come their way.
That starts on Tuesday when they sign off on their Croatian adventure with a match against an NK Novigrad side who will be older and perhaps more physically developed.
Speaking of challenges, these last few hours have been testing for me, too as Goalkeeper Camp: The sequel, went live…
As mentioned in my previous blog, I had the opportunity to train under GK Coach Dave Felgate with Gunn and O’Brien.
Now, shocking fitness levels aside, I thought I had perhaps done enough for Dave to at least put in a word for me with Patrick ahead of the new season.
I summoned up the courage to plead my case to the EDS boss at the end of our interview with him the other day…
I would not like his verdict.
It’s back to the training pitches this evening for a light session, before tomorrow’s double training ahead of the Rijeka match.
I’ll be back with the final blog of this pre-season camp on Monday which will look ahead to the final match day on Tuesday.
PS: Keep an eye out for third part of Jack Byrne’s Video Diary from here this afternoon – I’ve seen the rough edit and it’s going to be worth watching, if only for the Dubliner’s Westlife renditions…