Celtic and Lazio were excellent games, very much good tempo and played in the right manner. It was also interesting for us to play on the new pitch and the feedback from the lads is that it is a wonderful surface.
But the test for it will be from November to February. That’s when we want to see an improvement on last year’s pitch so that we can keep on passing the ball because that has been difficult for us at times in the past.
Thankfully the relaying of the pitch has gone really well in the summer and we’re delighted with the results. Credit to the Board, to the people who have come in and to our groundsman Darren Baldwin and his team who have done a smashing job on it.
Now a warm welcome to our new additions. Jamie Redknapp came in and played his first 90 minutes for us at Everton where he showed a lot of grit and determination. It was good to see him playing as he did as he’s got a lot of talent and passing ability and he proved to himself — because he doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody else — that he’s fit and is going to do well for the club.
Our crowd seems to have taken to Milenko Acimovic in pre-season and I’m confident that he is going to be another major player for us over the coming seasons. He’s got that little bit of flair but he needs to adapt, to get to know the English game and that will only come in time. It could be six months before the boy really feels at home but we’re trying to get him there as quickly as possible so I’m pleased with him.
Jonathan Blondel’s pedigree has been illustrated by the fact that he was called into the Belgian national squad for Wednesday’s game in Poland. He is a young lad and one for the future. We will also be having a good look at our two other arrivals Rohan Ricketts and Diego Bortolozzo. They are youngsters who have a lot to do before they can convince us but they are showing enough of the right signs.
To a certain degree last season we brought in a lot of experienced players, this year for the moment we are looking at youth and at the future. The blend is what is important. Qu Bo is obviously one that we are looking forward to working with as he awaits his work permit. For a loan fee with an option to buy, it is going to be an interesting situation as we look very much at building towards the future.
Our quest for a striker has gone on since the end of last season and continues. We’re hoping to get something done before the deadline.
Our targets are only going to be met if we can keep our squad strong and injury free. That’s something we’ve got to achieve this season and we are really working hard on that. If we can get our injuries down to a minimum then we can cope with that and it would mean our squad, plus what we might just bring in at the last minute, can have a very good season and our ambition should be high.
That was certainly not the case last season although I still feel that, in the circumstances, we managed to do quite well. Although the squad was very thin and I was unable to rest players when I wanted to, we reached a cup final where we just missed out and then let ourselves down on the last day of the season at Leicester.
With 15/20 minutes to go we were seventh and everyone would have said that’s the highest we’ve been for some time so it was frustrating to end up in ninth place.
However, the current signs are good in the sense that we’ve had injuries but what you’ve feared would be a long term problem has generally proved to be a shorter lay-off than was originally expected. Like with Gus where we thought we were looking at six months but that could now be five-six weeks, Anthony Gardner was out with a terrible virus which we thought could sideline him for a long time but he’s overcome it and made the start of the season. Deano suffered concussion and we thought we’d have to hold him back for three or four weeks but he was allowed to return a lot quicker. Stephen Carr will not now be out for six to eight weeks, we’re hoping for four because the scan showed that it’s not a complete tear. And Christian Ziege was also expected to be out longer but he too is making good progress.
So there is a sign there that’s positive. Although injuries are still with us, last year it was a case of: ‘He’s out for seven weeks, ‘he’s out for four months,’ ‘he’s out for six weeks’ while now there’s more encouragement.
As an example, Ledley is on his way back and has had a good week’s training under his belt so there are signs and a glimmer of light that we can overcome this. And if we get that squad strong I’m convinced that we can have a very good, progressive season.
In closing, welcome to new sponsors Thomson and Kappa. I particularly like both the new home and away kits while I’ve just seen the latest yellow third strip which looks great.
Last year here at the Lane your support was fantastic and not only on the so-called big games. There were games, for example I remember Southampton, Bolton and many others, where you changed our performance on the pitch and that, I’m sure, can be achieved again.
Get behind the lads and let’s have a good afternoon.
Welcome back to all and to everyone from Aston Villa. It all comes around again so quickly, particularly when there’s a World Cup in between seasons and when we’ve just had two home pre-season matches.