The week before the first game of a new season is always a busy week for any football club but, for manager Lee Clark, he spent time reflecting on pre-season and showed his obvious disappointment with a couple of injury problems.
“I’m happy with the way pre-season has gone, but the one disappointment is that we have picked up a couple of injuries. I’d love to have 100% of the players available for Saturday but, obviously, we have had two knee injuries with, firstly, Phil Edwards, who is coming on brilliantly. He is training on the grass on Friday but won’t be available for Saturday.
“Secondly, the injury that young Eoghan O’Connell picked up against Crewe and we have addressed that by bringing Alex Whitmore in, on loan from Burnley. We also have Nathan Cameron, who also needs his training managed and Danny Mayor, who had his problem since before I walked through the door and we are hoping for some conclusions with Danny in the next couple of days.”
Having not completed 90 minutes since November, and only completing four training sessions whilst under the manager’s time at the club, there is an obvious frustration from Lee when you ask him about Danny Mayor’s persistent injury problem.
“We sent Danny down to London to see a specialist and we do need to get to the bottom of this. It’s very frustrating for me and the player himself because we have an extremely talented player and he’s only completed four training sessions since I came in. We are trying every avenue and Danny is trying very hard himself. We need a conclusion very soon.”
As the Shakers team bus arrived at Prenton Park last Friday evening, the lads were greeted with the news that the game had been called off. The loss of the game was a hindrance to the managers plans, but plans were quickly put into place for a full game to take place the next morning.
“As the Tranmere game was called off, it kind of hindered us with our plans a little, so to replace that we had a full game amongst ourselves on the Saturday at Carrington. We used it as a full game, in full kits and with a referee in. It was a full game for us, so we managed to get minutes into all the players with that game. Have we got everything we wanted out of pre-season? Time will tell, the proof will be in the pudding and it all starts on Saturday.”
Over the last two to three months every signing, coming into the club, has raised expectation levels to new heights and Lee Clark is delighted to see fans talking about his new look squad and the aims for the season.
“I’m glad to see and feel the expectation that is around the club, but it’s only talk at the moment. We have to deliver. Talk is very cheap, but we believe that the squad that we have assembled, the change in mentality and telling the players just what is required.
“These are the standards they have to reach if we are going to be successful. Everyone is aware of what we are trying to do but, as I have said many times, the proof will be in the pudding on Saturday.”
Whilst the expectation is high amongst staff, players and supporters, Lee issued a warning that the whole season does not hang on the first game saying:
“Saturday is the first game and it’s about where we are after 46 games, not one. The game is huge on momentum and, if we get that positive result on Saturday that we are all hoping for, with it being the first game, it gives you that confidence and momentum to kick on. It gives individuals confidence and drives you forward.
“All that matters is where we are after 46 games. Of course, it will take time for all these new players to combine together but we believe we are ready and set up to go at Walsall and give them a tough afternoon.”
Lee was also delighted to praise the supporters for the reaction he saw from games last season, and that continued with Monday’s open training session, and he asked one thing from supporters – carry on.
“The crowd have to just carry on doing what they have done since I came in and give the team everything. The support from them both home and away has been terrific. They had a tough season last year but they still carried on supporting the team in huge numbers and in what we were trying to do. We won’t take support for granted because we know they back the team.”
Saturday is all about Walsall, the opening game of the season and, with Lee Clark knowing his starting eleven, he just wants the season to start but he is obviously wary of Walsall and the threat they bring.
“We know quite a lot about Walsall, we’ve had all their games watched. Only time will tell what you can take from them, we will have a better idea when we see their team sheet but we have done a lot of work on them. We’ve done a lot of video work, a lot of work on the grass. We’ve worked on how they might line up, how they will play and where we feel their strengths and weaknesses are.
“We will respect every single opponent because we know that if we are not doing our job properly, and if we don’t give the players the right information, then we will become unstuck. We are expecting a tough game and they will have the same inspiration that we have.
“My starting eleven is nailed down, the players haven’t been informed officially yet, but they might have read into certain things, but the team is nailed down and ready to go.
“We are ready, chomping at the bit and cannot wait. We want the real stuff to start now. It must be frustrating for fans in these games when you see all these changes during a game. We just want the real stuff and we want a game where there are points up for grabs.”