UNITED make their first away trip of the pre-season campaign when they visit Exeter at St James’ Park tonight.
Fitness remains the top priority for manager Martin Ling but the focus is now starting to shift forward to the first competitive game of the season, when Leicester arrive at Plainmoor in two weeks.
“The aim for tonight is pre-season fitness and it is obviously a derby against a team in our league, which puts an added edge on the game, although I’m not worried about that,” said Martin.
“We are now two weeks away from the Leicester game in the Cup, so we are starting to taper the team toward that opener. We are in the changeover period of working with heavy legs to getting real sharpness in our players.
“I view pre-season as a necessary evil. You’ve got to get the players ready and play the games so they get match-fit. You have to keep pre-season interesting and spending time at the Marine base definitely helped us.
“If you have a lot of new signings, pre-season can be more difficult because you are inputting new ideas on how you want to play. We only have three that are totally new to me in Michael Poke, Tom Cruise and Aaron Downes, so that makes things easier.
“Fitness-wise, Danny Stevens is looking fine after a hint of shin splints and the only two unavailable for tonight are Joe Oastler and Saul Halpin.
“Physically, Joe is fine but he has a broken nose and sees a specialist on Thursday. Saul is suffering from a recurring ankle problem and he is also seeing a specialist, but there is nothing major in either of those situations.”