Weather scuppers plans as new boys are left in cold

PUBLISHED: 10:06 13 February 2009 | UPDATED: 16:04 10 September 2010

Chris Lakey

Bryan Gunn will have more reason that most to curse the weather as he sits down and picks his team for the game at Preston tomorrow. Having bemoaned the loss of regular reserve team football this season and the valuable competitive edge it brings - albeit against varied opposition - the City manager set about arranging some behind-closed-doors friendlies.

Bryan Gunn will have more reason that most to curse the weather as he sits down and picks his team for the game at Preston tomorrow.

Having bemoaned the loss of regular reserve team football this season and the valuable competitive edge it brings - albeit against varied opposition - the City manager set about arranging some behind-closed-doors friendlies.

First up was Birmingham away on Tuesday - only for Gunn's plans to be scuppered by the adverse weather conditions.

Next up is a home game against Barnet at Carrow Road on Tuesday, when Gunn will be hoping Gary Kemp's immaculate surface will be in top nick as usual - and that the heavens don't drop their contents on it.

Gunn needs to get his so-called second-string and fringe players on to the pitch and slotting minutes under their belts, otherwise he could find himself in a difficult situation should he lose players through injury or suspension.

It's all worst-case scenario stuff, but it's been one of those seasons when anything can happen.

Had, for example, Gary Doherty's red card not been overturned on Tuesday, he would have found himself down to picking two from Adrian Leijer, Jonathan Grounds and Jason Shackell.

Leijer hasn't played first team football all season, Grounds' preference is for left back, not centre back, and Shackell has started just five games this season - the first one for City and the rest for Wolves.

With only one player out would have been far from ideal, but it could be worse: it wasn't so long ago that Peter Grant was bemoaning the absence of Craig Fleming and Doherty in the middle of his back four. At that time he had Dion Dublin and could press him into emergency duties at the back, although what you gained at the back you lost up front. The point is, if the scenario were to be repeated, Gunn would most definitely be in lumber as far as experience goes.

It means the deal for Stoke's Andrew Davies is still a goer, because Gunn simply cannot afford to take risks in the most important part of his team over the remaining 14 games - and even then Davies is another who lacks first team games this season.

Shackell is the tip to start alongside Doherty tomorrow, but it was never really a partnership made in heaven, which is presumably why Glenn Roeder allowed the City Academy product to head to Molineux in the first place. The back-up is Leijer and Grounds -and that's where the risk lies.

Injuries or loss of form are covered by the number of bodies, but not by that critical match fitness.

The defensive issues have been there all season, but Gunn's decision to allow Elliott Omozusi to end his season-long loan and return to Fulham has left him with just one recognised right-back, in Jon Otsemobor.

So the question is asked again: what if he is either injured or suffers a loss of form? There is no specialist right back to come in. Korey Smith plays there for the Academy, but when he skippers the Under-18s he's in midfield. And while he has bags of promise, he has no first team experience.

If a problem occurred during a game you'd expect Darel Russell or Sammy Clingan to cover - but starting them would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face because you simply lose their qualities in midfield. Doherty can do a job there, but clearly that simply confuses the centre-back issue.

Left back maybe isn't a major concern, with Adam Drury and Ryan Bertrand in contention. But Bertrand's injury absence has exposed a weakness; the injury-plagued Drury, despite his years of experience, was struggling at the end of Saturday's home defeat by Bristol City - it was the first time since October, 2007, that he had finished successive Championship games.

Gunn's opening selections have been marked by consistency, but once you get past a midfield choice of, say, five - Lee Croft, Russell, Clingan, Mark Fotheringham and Wes Hoolahan - the lack of match fitness shows up again.

Matty Pattison hasn't started a game under Gunn and hasn't even been on the bench for the last two; his last full 90 minutes was in December at Watford.

David Carney had 69 minutes for Sheffield United under his belt before a fine sub's appearance in the 3-3 draw at Wolves 10 days ago - but he'd had to wait almost six months between games. And while Gunn was hoping a trip to Japan with Australia would sharpen him up, it's probably done the opposite - Carney's three minutes as a sub in Yokohama cost 22 hours in the air for a 12,000-mile round trip that may actually end up doing more harm than good.

Alan Gow fares a little better - he's made two appearances off the bench after a two-month absence from first team action, although he had played pretty regularly up to the end of the year while on loan at Blackpool; presumably not ideal though.

Up front, Chris Killen would certainly have featured at Birmingham - like Carney, his only first team appearance before coming to Carrow Road was at the beginning of the season.

Cody McDonald has been a regular with Dartford this season, but the Championship is a big step up from the Rymans Premier League and he, too, will need time to adjust.

Of course, fringe players are just that - players who don't get the opportunity to start every game. It's unavoidable.

But Gunn needs a touch of luck on his side - this isn't the beginning of the season, this is approaching the final quarter, when any exposure of weak links could be exploited. If any of his players pick up injuries or suffer a dip in form, he has to have someone who can replace them and step in and do a job for 90 minutes.

Which is why he will probably be laying out the red carpet to Barnet on Tuesday.

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