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DAVID CUFFLEY Gary Doherty got more than he bargained for in Norwich City's opening pre-season match - but was a relieved man after completing 90 minutes for the first time since Easter Monday.


Gary Doherty got more than he bargained for in Norwich City's opening pre-season match - but was a relieved man after completing 90 minutes for the first time since Easter Monday.

The 27-year-old centre-half was one of only two players given a full match as the Canaries began their countdown to the Coca-Cola Championship season with a 2-1 defeat at Conference club Exeter City.

Doherty was pressed into service in central midfield in the first half before reverting to his customary defensive role in the second period, the first time he had played for nearly 14 weeks since the 2-1 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion.

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But he wasn't complaining about his twin role after manager Peter Grant was deprived of the services of four midfielders.

Doherty said: “It's a strange one. For the first game of the season, you usually just play a half but I've been out for what feels like forever, 3½ months, so I was just happy to get 90 minutes under my belt.”

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With Dickson Etuhu suffering from toothache, Mark Fotheringham troubled by blisters, Simon Lappin attending his sister's wedding and French signing Julien Brellier kept under wraps, Doherty partnered Michael Spillane in midfield for the first 45 minutes.

He said: “Dickson had toothache and Fozzy's blisters are terrible, so the gaffer asked me to play in midfield.

“You don't really want a midfielder to play 90 minutes in the first game, so I just did a job in there and then went to the back.

“I don't mind. If we come down with injuries, it's needs must. I'll try to do my best in there. Primarily, I want to be a centre-half but we had a few injuries today, so I'll play wherever.

“It feels great. I worked hard in the summer to get my fitness back to what it was at the start of last season.

“I need 90 minutes a few more times to get the rust out. It's only been three and a half months but it was a double hernia so it's something I've got to look after and strengthen up.

“Today was a good test - 90 minutes on a rock-hard pitch and it feels all right, so that's a good thing.

“You probably wouldn't choose this as your first game but there was a bit of a spectacle with Flybe and that's why it got arranged. “This is just to get a run-out and get the fitness and get the cobwebs off. Probably in Holland and after that the matches are going to be looking more towards the season.”

Grant said afterwards: “Doc can do all his legwork but I think he needs game sharpness, so getting him about in the middle of the pitch is important just for fitness work and then we moved him back.”

Grant used only two of his new signings - strikers David Strihavka and Jamie Cureton - at St James' Park, leaving goalkeepers David Marshall and Matthew Gilks and full-back Jon Otsemobor back at Colney with midfielder Brellier to step up their training. Star forward Darren Huckerby was not risked because of a slight groin strain.

But some of them could be involved against Lowestoft at Crown Meadow tomorrow (7.45pm) or King's Lynn at The Walks on Wednesday (7.45pm).

“Hucks had a slight strain, which I'm sure he had last pre-season on his groin,” said Grant. “You know what he's like, he wants to train, he wants to play, but I just can't take that chance.

“He's been working ever so hard during the summer so missing this game is not a problem for him.”

Exeter's bright start was rewarded with two goals in as many minutes from Jamie Mackie and Adam Stansfield before Luke Chadwick reduced the arrears on the half-hour.

Grant said: “You could see it was our first 90 minutes. We know Exeter have had a couple of games. There was a rustiness there. They've been working very hard and it's been tough on their legs.

“We expected that but we were disappointed with the way we started the game. I can understand and that's why I'm maybe more reserved about it than usual because I knew it would be tough.”

But Grant said he was encouraged by the performances of his two new strikers.

“I was impressed with David. He hardly knows the players, but I think once we get the players on his wavelength you could see some great movement, especially in the first half, when I thought he made some terrific movement and never received the ball.

“I'm quite happy for these guys to have shot at goal and miss because I know they'll take opportunities and score them.”

With Adam Drury used only in the second half, Jason Shackell was handed the captain's armband and kept it until he was substituted seven minutes from time, Grant suggesting he was a potential skipper of the future.

He said: “I look at him and I just think Jason's got an opportunity to lead this club if he prepares right. I think he's got something still to come in his game. There was a rawness in his performance, but I think he's got the attributes to be a leader. But I think he's got to show that more consistently. It's an opportunity for him now and I feel it's something he could grow into.”

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