Norwich City boss Alex Neil looks for early signs of progress at Gorleston
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Alex Neil warns competition for places on Norwich City's Premier League journey will be cut-throat – which is why he wants to see his squad lay down an early marker on Saturday at Gorleston (KO 3pm).
City return to action at Emerald Park less than seven weeks after the high of a Wembley play-off triumph against Middlesbrough sealed a top flight return.
Neil's squad have spent the early part of pre-season working on fitness at St George's Park and Colney but the Scot wants to harness the lingering benefits of that memorable win over the Teessiders as they gear up for the kick-off against Crystal Palace on August 8.
Summer signing Youssouf Mulumbu is expected to be in the squad against the Greens, but City's international contingent are poised to sit out the friendly after the majority only returned to training this week.
England Under-21 international Nathan Redmond is back in the fold next week after featuring for the Young Lions at the Uefa U21 European Championships in the Czech Republic.
'Everyone is in good spirits and training really hard to get themselves ready,' said Neil. 'When you end the season as well as we did, there's always going to be a feel-good factor. Certainly, the year before - following relegation - players would have been coming into it feeling a bit downbeat.
'It's the complete opposite now, with the club being in the Premier League. You can see how much effort the players are putting in, because they desperately want to be part of it. That can only bode well for everyone, so hopefully it continues.'
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Neil is not underestimating the value of run-outs against Gorleston and Hitchin before taking on league opposition at Cambridge United overthe space of the next few days.
'It's about getting minutes under your belt and getting the hard work in, without picking up injuries,' he said. 'That's the most important thing, however, we want to win every game so we aim to give a good account of ourselves.
'If we do that, then it's a good stepping stone for us to use in the build-up to our opening league game. It will be good to see the boys get back out there and get started.'
Neil, speaking to the club's official site, admits an abbreviated close season for his play-off winners remains a slight worry.
'The time-frame between us finishing the play-offs and this pre-season starting is short, so that's my main concern – giving them enough time off so they're recovered from last year mentally as much as anything else,' he said. 'You've got to have your base in terms of fitness but I'm sure the players are looking forward to the games.
'We've done a few mini-games between ourselves. Our pre-season is going very well so far; everyone has come through unscathed so that's the most important thing.
'They've all got their work done, so we're looking good. To be honest, certainly this season, it's more of a concern whether they've had enough rest rather than their fitness levels being good enough.'