Park Avenue 1, City 3
Paul McLaren is starting to notice the difference. Two games into the pre-season marathon and City’s new playmaker can feel it already.
Mind you, Saturday’s outing at Avenue seemed like a stroll in the park compared with the heavy training session the City squad were put through 24 hours earlier.
Stuart McCall really put down the hammer with his players on Friday as the fitness work was cranked up several notches.
They say there is no gain without pain and McLaren could appreciate the benefits.
“It was a very hard day and I thought we might be a bit leggy in the game but it actually felt a lot better,” he said.
“I thought we did well. We passed the ball around and the gaffer was pleased with one or two things.
“I personally felt a bit rusty in the Farsley game but things went better for me. We are stepping our game up.”
McLaren gave the healthy Horsfall turn-out a first glimpse of why City were so chuffed to lure him away from Tranmere.
Picking up a short corner, he quickly worked himself an angle from the corner of the penalty area and launched a cross-shot into the top corner of the Avenue net.
McCall said: “No matter what game you play in, players want to get into good habits. It will do Macca good to get off the mark and Peter Thorne as well.
“The boys worked really hard on Friday, so we knew there was a lot of tiredness out there, but at this stage it’s just about getting that fitness into them.
“We’re working to a plan and the fitness expert is pleased with the level we’re at so far. You don’t just stop training when you come to the games.
“People were aware they’d be a bit heavy-legged, plus I also made them play a bit longer than midweek. Rather than just having a half, I gave them 60 to 65 minutes.
“But pre-season is all about playing games like this. Park Avenue gave us a decent game, it was played in a good spirit and the pitch was nice.
“At this time of the year, it’s all about picking up right habits and building up the match fitness.”
For those who do take pre-season outcomes to heart, at least City are off and running. Compared with Farsley, this was more like it.
Of course it takes time to shake off the summer cobwebs and the all-round general play was a level above the soggy opening night at Throstle Nest.
McCall fielded a smattering of senior pros dotted about with younger, fresher legs – and will do the same against Guiseley tomorrow night with some of the rest.
But the City fans will have been heartened by seeing what McLaren can do.
Equally, there was an early reminder of Thorne’s goal-scoring talents with the opening strike after 20 minutes.
He had already tested former City youth stopper Jon Worsnop with a cheeky backheel from Kyle Nix’s lay-off. Then a perfectly-weighted pass over the top from Omar Daley got the City frontman behind the Avenue back four.
As Worsnop frantically advanced, the ball sat up nicely for Thorne to guide a lob over the stranded keeper. City’s top gun from last season was up and running.
He may not have kicked a single ball during the two-month break prior to training but the veteran has not lost the knack.
Avenue, like Farsley, provided keen opposition and the game bobbed along at a fair tempo. There was also a competitive edge about the midfield, where Nix and Avenue’s Tom Baker enjoyed a few feisty tangles.
Both players looked to push forward and join the attacks and, after Baker shot just over following a surging run, it was Nix’s turn to pop up in the danger zone where he was denied by the sprawling Worsnop.
The keeper also saved from the lively Daley before apprentice Luke Dean, partnering Thorne up top, lost control of a cross from the Jamaican when well-placed in front of goal.
Daley had played well over an hour in midweek and was given some respite when he came off at half-time. But young replacement Jordan Barker lasted barely ten minutes before hobbling off.
City’s line-up was still fairly strong as they made it 2-0 with McLaren’s super strike after 53 minutes – and Dean made up for his earlier miss when he jabbed home a third four minutes later.
Avenue kept at it and deserved to pull one back when Jon McLaughlin failed to hang on to Baker’s drive and substitute Stuart Rudd netted the loose ball.
McLaughlin, who started the game after Rhys Evans reported sick, made way straight after the goal, which was the cue for McCall to make his changes.
City still nearly had a fourth goal through Rory Carson, before Carl Ruffer came close to another Avenue consolation when his close-range header was smothered.
City: McLaughlin (Convey 65), Turner, O’Brien, McLaren (O’Hara 65), Clarke (Bellamy 65), Bower, Daley (Barker 46, Korey Nix 57), Kyle Nix, Dean, Thorne (Carson 65), Horne.