Issue Alright on the night as City prepare for the end of pre-season

As told by Jason Mckeown

Pre-season is nearly over, and we can all breath a collective sigh of relief.

It’s been nice to attend these friendly games, catch a glimpse of new signings and review the trailists; but the novelty soon wears off and every half heartedly-cheered City goal and shrug of the shoulders at conceding leaves an increasingly unsatisfied feeling that can only be replaced by the real thing. As manager Stuart McCall summed it all up after beating York three weeks ago, “this needs to be done.”

Come 5pm on Saturday things will suddenly start to matter a whole lot more. The countdown to the big kick off at Meadow Lane can begin and once again we prepare ourselves for 10 months fretting over City’s fortunes, where weekend moods balance on the fate of 11 men (plus seven subs) and engagement in social activities is disrupted by numerous journeys down the M1. The great goals we’ll cheer, the gut-wrenching pain of last minute defeats we’ll no doubt expose ourselves too ,the sight of Lenny dancing, the shabby treatment by the police – 14 weeks after the season ended at Chesterfield, it’s almost time to go through it all again.

But there’s one last rehearsal to complete before debates over who Stuart might start with at Notts County are anything but premature, with former City midfielder Greg Abbott’s Carlisle United in town to offer that final test. It already feels like a long time since the opening pre-season win against Burnley, and the subsequent six warm up games have aided Stuart’s efforts to shape his strongest-looking side which is expected to start tomorrow. Simon Eastwood is between the sticks – after favourable reports following his performance at Alfreton Town – in front of a back four of Simon Ramsden, Matt Clarke, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien. With new recruits James Bateson and Steve Williams impressing and Louis Horne enjoying a promising pre-season, there is plenty of strength at the back for the coming battles.

Midfield, as has been well documented, still features the black hole of a number four position in need of filling. Grant Smith and James O’Brien have emerged as the likeliest to get the chance to take on the role from the clutch of trialists, though rumours persist that Stuart is about to sign one if not two central midfielders from elsewhere. Lee Bullock is likely to play and quietly impresses in the usual manner, with Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon taking the flanks. The expectation is that Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding will begin the season as first choice strike pairing, though Gareth Evans and James Hanson have excited in pre-season and will be pushing them closely.

Carlisle are rare visitors to Valley Parade over the last few decades, but will bring some familiarity in the shape of former City midfielder Marc Bridge-Wilkinson. Abbott’s pre-season has been disrupted by Watford’s attempts to sign striker Danny Graham and subsequent battle to agree a transfer fee – it’s going to a tribunal – which hinders his plans to sign new players. Beaten 3-1 at home to Blackpool on Wednesday, Abbott talks about a lack of “devilment” in attack and defence which leaves one pondering the idea of putting City’s midfield between them to see how badly they’d struggle or adding Carlisle’s midfield to the Bantams’ attack and defence to create some kind of mutant superforce lower league club.

Thank goodness we can shortly begin occupying our minds with more meaningful football matters again.