Exeter 2, Norwich City 1

CHRIS LAKEY It's a long way down to Exeter if you're a Norwich City fan who didn't opt to juxtapose family holiday with pre-season friendly fixture - they were the lucky ones.


It's a long way down to Exeter if you're a Norwich City fan who didn't opt to juxtapose family holiday with pre-season friendly fixture - they were the lucky ones.

Those who had to travel all the way back to Norfolk will wonder if it was worth the hassle, although they should have learned by now that travelling the length and breadth of the country to watch the first warm-up game of the summer is rarely going to extend the footballing nerve-ends.

It's a leisurely stroll, aimed at shaking off the cobwebs that training at Colney couldn't quite dislodge, the first step back on a seven-rung ladder which stops at the first game of the new season.

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But anyone hoping that the first step would, this time, be something worth remembering only had to look at the starting line-up to realise that wouldn't be the case: Gary Doherty in midfield and Robert Eagle at left back is as sure a sign as any that this was a friendly in the truest meaning of the word.

Darren Huckerby was left at home to ensure nothing misfires when it comes to the real thing, Dickson Etuhu had dental problems, while Mark Fotheringham's travelling arrangements came to a stop just short of the airport runway in Norwich when he was sent home to take care of some nasty blisters. And, as expected, Julien Brellier, Jon Otsemobor and keepers David Marshall and Matty Gilks have work to catch up on.

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Grant used all 20 players, Andy Hughes and Doherty the ones who had to play the full 90 - and read into that what you will. In fact, you can read into anything that happened at St James' Park, Exeter, on Saturday afternoon, in a lot of different ways.

The truth is, more than a few Norwich players looked like they were still on a beach in Miami or at a roulette table in Vegas. Minds were elsewhere, bodies still trying to catch up with the demands of actually playing against 11 other blokes in different coloured shirts. That's where there are six more warm-up games, six more games which, after Wednesday at King's Lynn, step up a notch as far as degree of difficulty goes.

Grant's post-match interviews on Saturday were an indication of his feelings: had this been a competitive fixture he would have been incandescent with rage. In this instance, he was forgiving, preferring not to dwell on the defensive errors that will be punished much more severely after August 11. Preferring not to pick up on the possession that was lost, the passes that didn't find the man, the few chances that went begging.

Which goes some way to showing how Grant wanted his players to treat 'match' (incidentally, what do you reckon the chances were of this fixture being on the pre-season schedule had the two clubs not shared the same sponsor? The words nil and unlikely come to mind).

Exeter didn't mind, their muscles had been flexed on a tour through neighbouring Cornwall and they looked hungry from the start. Joe Lewis saved well from Jamie Mackie but on 11 minutes Eagle and Jason Shackell got in each other's way, allowing the ball to fall to the same player who tucked it home from the inside right channel.

A couple of minutes later it was 2-0, Adam Stansfield squeezing the ball home from a tight angle as the City defence dozed.

So, we'd seen how Exeter's attack was working - what about City's? It was the first sighting of Jamie Cureton in a City shirt for more than a decade and he didn't disappoint, looking livelier than ever and showing a surprising turn of pace. The brain and the feet are clearly on the same wavelength, but it was his partnership with Czech striker David Strihavka which maybe carries a lot of City's hopes this season. Strihavka needs to be given time to adjust, no one can surely deny that, but the initial signs were okay. There was a touch of the rabbit in the headlights at times, but Czech football and a pre-season at Exeter are very different animals.

Lee Croft on the right and Luke Chadwick on the left were solid enough, but Doherty and Michael Spillane in midfield isn't a partnership either a) made in heaven or, b) ever going to be seen in a competitive fixture. Had Cureton had the advantage of Youssef Safri's elegant second-half passing he might well have got his first goal for Norwich since April 1, 1995.

Strihavka had a couple of sights of goal, while Cureton might regret not taking a shot when he rounded keeper Paul Jones, preferring to square it for his new strike partner.

The scoring duties were left to Chadwick, who, on the half-hour mark, allowed an Eagle ball into the area from the left roll past him before timing his shot perfectly, the ball nestling in the far corner.

Lewis, Dion Dublin, Eagle, Spillane, Cureton and Chadwick were replaced at the break for a half in which Safri pulled all the strings. A sublime pass or two out to the flanks and some quick footwork under pressure - plus a couple of late tackles - showed us all what we'll miss should he go.

City were in the ascendancy after the break, but never really looked like scoring - Chris Brown saw an effort blocked and Andy Hughes' cross clipped the woodwork, but apart from that the highlight was Safri's deflected shot which smashed into a house over the road behind Jones' goal which brought cheers all round.

Shackell squaring up to Mackie after a late challenge suggested something was at stake, but in reality you'll have to wait for next week's Holland sojourn for things to start getting more serious.

That's when Grant will begin to ponder some of the more burning issues: who are his preferred midfield playmakers, who are his preferred strikers - and which central defender does he bring in to shore up a department which is desperately short in numbers and, therefore competition.

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