Slimline Croft to be a friend reunited

PUBLISHED: 12:58 15 December 2006 | UPDATED: 09:54 14 September 2010

DAVID CUFFLEY

Lee Croft has an added incentive for winning back his first team place when Norwich City visit Southampton tomorrow - the chance to line up against his “best friend in football”.

Lee Croft has an added incentive for winning back his first team place when Norwich City visit Southampton tomorrow - the chance to line up against his “best friend in football”.

The slimmed-down winger could be recalled for the Coca-Cola Championship match at St Mary's Stadium (3pm), despite not having played a match for seven weeks because of an ankle injury.

And if he makes the starting line-up, he's set to share the spotlight with former Manchester City colleague Bradley Wright-Phillips.

The two 21-year-olds both left the City of Manchester Stadium in July this year, Croft to Carrow Road in a £600,000 move and Wright-Phillips for an undisclosed fee to the Saints.

But they are in touch regularly and have already traded good-natured banter ahead of their weekend meeting.

“Probably my best friend in football, Bradley, plays for Southampton, so it will be nice to get back for that game if I can,” said Croft, who has missed eight first team matches since suffering the injury in the 5-0 defeat at Stoke.

“I've been speaking to him. He's enjoying it down there. They're doing well at the moment and if they're in the top six at Christmas they get a week's break somewhere, so they'll be doing everything to stay there.

“If I wasn't on four bookings I think I might have taken him out! But I don't want to get a fifth and be out for another game.

“It will be great to play against him but the main thing is to get back and try to help the team start winning games.”

Croft's salad days and workouts in the gym have helped him shed nearly a stone during his lay-off, earning praise from manager Peter Grant and the nickname “Slim” from his team-mates.

He said: “I feel good. I've been training all week. The reserve game that I was supposed to be playing half a game in was postponed, but I feel good and hopefully I'm available for selection tomorrow.

“I'm very eager. Everyone knows I've missed playing, so the sooner I can get back the better for me. I'm raring to get going again.

“I worked very hard when I was injured, so I've not really felt the effects of the lay-off since I've been back. I've been straight back into it, working as hard as I can and I just can't wait to get back to playing games on a Saturday afternoon.

“I suppose I've maybe used the injury to my advantage as much as I could. I just wanted to work hard on my fitness, work hard on the rest of my body. I really missed training and that was difficult.”

He said he had no worries about going straight back into action without even a reserve match under his belt.

“It would have been good for me to play half a game in a game situation but all I can do is work hard in training. I've had a week of that, getting my touch back. The first opportunity that comes, I'd love to be back in. I don't think it will make too much difference that I haven't played.”

Losing weight had been a deliberate aim, said Croft.

“I set a target with the sport science staff and said I wanted to lose about a stone and I'm nearly at that mark now,” he said. “I'm really happy with that. I can feel the benefits of that. That's only going to help me. That will push me on even further.

“I've just been working hard in the gym, doing a lot of aerobic stuff and swimming - and when you're injured you've got to cut down on your food. I've been eating more sensibly. I'm going to keep that going. I've been eating a lot of protein and having more salads.”

Grant said Croft's weight had never been an issue since he arrived as manager.

“People always talked about his weight, but he was always a fit lad, he always managed to get on with his training,” said Grant. “There was never a problem. He's worked extremely hard. It's very difficult to lose weight when you're injured because you're not running about as much, you're doing different types of weights. But he's trimmed himself down exceptionally well. His attitude in training has been excellent.”

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