Undercooked’ not just a problem in Oz

“Undercooked” seems to be one of the fashionable words in the sporting world at the moment.

“Undercooked” seems to be one of the fashionable words in the sporting world at the moment.

We hear it used mostly as a criticism of teams or individuals for their lack of preparation - such as the England cricket team during their disastrous tour of Australia.

Retaining the Ashes was always likely to be rather a tall order, despite the glories of 2005, but agreeing to such a suicidal schedule, with inadequate practice matches beforehand and five Tests crammed into 6½ weeks, effectively killed off their chances before they set foot Down Under.

But undercooked could equally apply to some of Norwich City's first-team squad this season, especially those on the fringes of the senior side, accustomed to filling the gaps on the substitutes' bench but seldom getting more than a few minutes' first-team action - and in some cases not even that.

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Players brought in for the

occasional outing - examples in recent weeks are Paul McVeigh against Hull and Ryan Jarvis against Sheffield Wednesday - are criticised if they look off the pace but is it any wonder? When else do they ever get a game?

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The root cause? Well, reserve team football as we knew it is

pretty much dead.

The Canaries have long since got out of the habit of regularly using first-team squad players in reserve games - then their schedule was slashed by eight matches after their expulsion from the FA Premier Reserve League at the

end of last season.

This season they have just 18 scheduled games, compared to 26 last term, and most of the opposition is not of the same standard. Four of those 18 games are against the reserve teams of non-League clubs.

So far, the Canaries have played just nine Pontin's Holidays Combination matches in five months.

The Bluecoats probably get to play more games than that.

Since Peter Grant arrived as

manager 12 weeks ago, the reserves have played only four times.

Small wonder Grant has complained about hardly having seen some of his players in a competitive game.

He said not long after arriving at Carrow Road that he did not, as a rule, wish to play first-team players in reserve away games, but several of them turned out at Ipswich and Colchester simply to get some kind of game. And City lost both games 3-0.

The lack of football has become so acute that Grant has arranged a friendly match against Tottenham's reserve team at Carrow Road on Monday night as he tries to give some of his players a useful workout.

Spurs agreed to send a team after City's reserve match against Oxford was postponed at the

visitors' request.

Had that game not been arranged, they would have had to wait until January 22 for the next reserve team fixture against Northampton, a full seven weeks after the last

one at Colchester. How ridiculous is that?

At Thursday's Press conference at Colney, Grant used the example of Ian Henderson to illustrate the shortage of opportunities for

players outside the current

first-choice eleven.

Apart from being on duty as an unused substitute against Sheffield Wednesday four weeks ago, Henderson has not featured in the first team 16 since suffering a knee injury in the Carling Cup tie at Rotherham in September.

His new boss has hardly set eyes on him in a match situation since he took over.

“You look at him and think he has done ever so well in training - but I have seen him in one game, against Colchester Reserves, and he has been out for a few weeks,” said Grant.

“It is a difficult one for these guys not getting games.”

Last week, the manager said

goalkeeper Joe Lewis had not played anything like enough “men's football” and more than once he has talked about sending Lewis out on loan to gain more experience.

He would like to give others the chance to go out on loan, and not merely at King's Lynn - but wants to be sure of getting other players in to maintain the squad size.

“If I get a few bodies in it is something I will have to do,” he said.

Players such as Henderson, Matthieu Louis-Jean, Ryan Jarvis and some of the younger professionals badly need to play competitive games somewhere if they do not figure in the current first-team plans.

But they won't get them at reserve-team level.

When I first attended Carrow Road, the Canaries were playing

40 or 42 reserve games per season, with home games on Saturdays when the first team was away.

Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham, Ipswich and Southampton were all on the

fixture list and City frequently

did well against them.

Times have changed, with some clubs abolishing their reserve sides and placing more emphasis on their academy teams. And it's highly unlikely, in these days of smaller, higher-paid squads and five substitutes in first-team games, that anyone would want to return to such a long reserve fixture list.

But I am sure it was a better way of keeping the fringe players sharp enough to step into the first team when required.

And we didn't have fit players waiting weeks on end to get a game.

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