Canaries reserves forced to slum it

PUBLISHED: 15:40 23 June 2007 | UPDATED: 10:21 14 September 2010

DAVID CUFFLEY

Norwich City are facing another season of sub-standard reserve team football - after plans to set up a new league system failed to get off the ground. Football League officials wanted to created a Championship reserve league to mirror that operated by the Premiership, but failed to get enough backing from clubs to go ahead with the idea.

Norwich City are facing another season of sub-standard reserve team football - after plans to set up a new league system failed to get off the ground.

Football League officials wanted to created a Championship reserve league to mirror that operated by the Premiership, but failed to get enough backing from clubs to go ahead with the idea.

Instead, the Canaries will again take their place in the Pontin's Holidays Combination, where their opponents will include the reserve teams of two Conference clubs, Stevenage and newly-elected Grays Athletic.

Grays and Peterborough United were voted into the Combination's East Division at Thursday's annual meeting, replacing Leyton Orient, who have switched to a different division, and Oxford United, who have withdrawn.

City's full list of opponents in the 10-team section will be Colchester, Grays, Ipswich, Luton, MK Dons, Northampton, Peterborough, Southend and Stevenage - only two of them Championship clubs.

Norwich returned to the Combination last season after losing their place in the Barclays Premiership Reserve League, where they had been playing Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and West Ham.

Instead, fielding almost exclusively Academy players, they finished seventh in the Combination East Division with six wins and six draws from their 18 games. Ipswich took the title by a nine-point margin.

Club secretary Kevan Platt confirmed that City would be in the same section again, playing just two matches per month, after proposals for change had been rejected.

He said: “Moves by the Football League to create a Championship reserve league could not find enough support from the Championship clubs for it to come into creation. It is really difficult to try to please 24 clubs.”

Many clubs felt the benefit of a slight improvement in the standard of opposition was offset by the prospect of travelling long distances - Norwich going to Plymouth and Preston, for example - to play reserve games.

Combination fixtures will be announced next month, with the first matches in week starting Monday, August 20.

City's reserve team set-up changed last season when team boss Keith Webb moved to King's Lynn as manager, with Academy manager Ricky Martin taking over for the rest of the programme.

That arrangement will continue next season, with Martin - also given the role of youth team coach in a summer reshuffle - and assistant Darren Bloodworth looking after the reserves.

Manager Peter Grant confirmed: “Ricky will take care of the reserves in his role as overall manager of the academy and Darren Bloodworth will help Ricky with that.

“It makes sense because most of the boys in the reserve team will be youth team players and they will be best placed to assess their progress - to see how they do against stronger opponents, and how they cope with playing at Carrow Road, away from Colney.”

Grant was critical of the lack of competitive matches for many of his squad last year and chose to send a clutch of players out on loan in the second half of the season rather than keep them for the occasional reserve game.

Ipswich boss Jim Magilton is no fan of Combination football either, and was less than enthusiastic about Town staying put.

He said: “It is not ideal, but there is nothing we can do about it.

“With respect to sides in the Combination, it is not easy for our lads to raise their game. Some have shown a dip in form and the league does not provide too many benefits.”

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