IN CITY’s “new normal”, this week will have come as a welcome throwback.

The intense fixture schedule takes a brief breather to allow the club a rare free midweek without a game.

For once, Stuart McCall and his coaching staff have the time to put some routine work into the training ground without the constant preparation and recovery from playing.

“It’s been challenging because of the amount of games we’ve tried to catch up on,” admitted City fitness coach Ben Rome.

“You can see it across all leagues now that the injuries are going up, even at the bigger clubs where they’ve got loads of staff to monitor the players.

“It’s causing an unbelievable amount of training load and training stress on the players.

“That coupled with the fact that at our level our boys have had four months off from football, it’s almost not fair on the players.”

The ever-changing landscape with COVID-19 and the protocols that must be followed ensure this is already a season like no other for Rome and those whose job is to keep the players in the best physical shape.

He added: “You never know what’s round the corner.

“We’ve already had one game called off against Grimsby and you see other clubs like Oxford, Scunthorpe and Swindon have had loads off.

“The club have been brilliant with the protocols they have put in place.

“(Head of operations) Paula (Watson) is up at the training ground every couple of days making sure that everybody is doing it properly.

“We haven’t had any positive cases and are obviously desperate that continues.

“We’d like to think that if we did have a positive test, with the measures we’ve got we could isolate that person and it wouldn’t spread.

“The manager is missing four or five with injury and if he suddenly lost another four or five with COVID suddenly it could be devastating to team selection.”

Rome and head physio Chris Royston have meetings every morning with Stuart McCall to go through the fitness data and make sure that players are getting the right workload. They also rely on the individuals to be honest about the state of their bodies.

“It’s good that we’ve got the GPS because it helps us monitor training loads and we can match it accordingly.

“Chris is very good and does a lot of readiness questionnaires for the players so we can check fatigue levels.

“By the time we have a meeting in the morning with the manager, Chris has already had that sent through electronically from the players.

“He can then feed that into our chat as to whether we need to taper it down for certain people or push them on a little bit more.

“There’s a little bit of trust in that because the players are self-reporting but we feel it’s worked quite well.

“It’s managing things on a daily basis because this season is bringing up things that we’ve never experienced for this period of time.

“You might get it over Christmas but having to deal with this over such a long time is very different.”

The long, enforced break after last season was scrapped threw up a scenario that nobody could have planned for.

Former Doncaster fitness chief Rome, who joined City the previous summer after a year working with RIASA, was impressed with how the players stuck at it during that vacuum.

He was able to meet a few players for small sessions in Harrogate as restrictions eased and was pleasantly surprised with the results when the club returned for pre-season.

“The testing was actually higher than the year previous,” he said. “That was really encouraging to see.

“Even though we were furloughed for those months, the lads were really good at looking after themselves and came back in good physical condition.

“It was then about getting the football specific movements back which obviously takes time and you have to be careful.”

Some changes have been introduced for this season, including Saturday football sessions for players not involved on a match day. Former assistant manager Martin Drury takes those at the training ground.

Rome added: “Last season we’d send them away with a GPS and tell them to do some running. Now they have a football-specific session.

“Look at somebody like Levi (Sutton) who has missed parts through suspension.

“When we’re away, he’s still doing physically demanding work on the grass. That’s been a massive help from my point of view.

“Eventually we’re going to need the players who haven’t made the squad and they won’t come in cold.

“When we look at the GPS on a Monday morning, it shows that players who have missed out aren’t actually that far behind.

“In my job you are always spinning four plates. You’ve got the players who are playing week in, week out, the lads on the bench, those who aren’t involved and the others that are injured.

“It’s making sure the training load is adequate for all four groups.”

The swimming pool at Woodhouse Grove School remains out of bounds for City. They had the same issue in the pre-match hotel before the Tonbridge FA Cup tie where the fitness facilities were all shut.

“You’re making big physical demands on players but taking away some of the recovery things you can do. That’s another challenge.”

But for one week only, Rome and the fitness staff can work with McCall to prepare a schedule that does not have to squeeze in another game on a Tuesday. The squad can expect to feel the difference.

Rome said: “It’s hard to get strength work into the players when you are playing so many midweek games.

“On a normal week, your Tuesday is usually an overload day. The manager will do a physically demanding session in the morning on the pitch and then the players would go with me in the gym in the afternoon – obviously in socially-distanced groups.

“This is a great opportunity to do that. It’s a bit of injury-prevention as well.

“This week gives the manager more time on the training field to implement things he wants to go through. Up to now it’s just been a case of prepare, play and recover.

“And physically we can get that overload day and get all the players in the gym Tuesday and Thursday.”