Lee puts gloves on to get fighting fit

CHRIS LAKEY Boxing Day has come early for Canaries winger Lee Croft, who has donned the gloves to add punch to his claims for a regular first team place - and put Darren Huckerby in his.


Boxing Day has come early for Canaries winger Lee Croft, who has donned the gloves to add punch to his claims for a regular first team place - and put Darren Huckerby in his.

Croft has started just half a dozen Championship games this season but has been named on the bench 14 times - and he's hoping that taking up the noble art will help him in City's relegation fight.

The 22-year-old has yet to complete a full 90 minutes under the management of Glenn Roeder, who has preferred bringing him off the bench to panic the opposition - just as he did at Colchester last weekend when Croft, Dion Dublin and Huckerby all came on within 10 minutes of each other.

However, Croft is determined not to be labelled super sub.

"You ask me or Dion or Hucks - we don't want to be seen as impact players, you don't want that as a label," said Croft. "But the gaffer chose to leave us on the bench and keep it tight for the game at Colchester, so that is his choice and it is up to us to come on when called upon and try to do the business."

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Croft's hopes come as City finally begin to punch close to their weight at the bottom end of the Championship table. Having dragged themselves off the bottom, and then out of the relegation zone, City face a defining Christmas period when they could put dents into the survival hopes of fellow strugglers Scunthorpe and Crystal Palace while making a point against two of their peers, Charlton and Wolves.

"Obviously there are some big games coming up so it is important now to kick on," said Croft. "We have got out of the position we were in and now we have to progress and set ourselves new targets and make sure we don't slip back down.

"I was speaking to Hucks and we were saying if we get a good result against Scunthorpe on Saturday then we fancy ourselves against anyone at home, if we are playing well," he said. "If we get a good result then we have two home games over Christmas and that would set a benchmark and make people notice. Hopefully teams will start to recognise now that we are on our way back and a few more wins would just enhance that."

Croft believes the new managerial team has helped re-install confidence.

"The lads are back enjoying it again," he said. "The gaffer has come in and there is a buzz around the place with his new coaching staff. We are enjoying training and we have had results so we are all really enjoying it.

"I think a few players lost confidence, sometimes it does take something new to instil it back into you. I have always said we have got good players, it is just bringing that out in everyone. As soon as the results started coming everyone is fine. The manger has brought a few players in who have helped enhance the squad and the team so we have a good blend now."

Croft has been sparring with sports scientist Dave Carolan with Huckerby, so often Croft's verbal sparring partner, his target before the end of the season.

"I am in training - I am going to take Hucks on before the end of the season," Croft laughed. "He reckons he can do me - he might have the technique but I think I have the heart and the fight so I think I'm going to do him.

"It is just fitness work with the sports scientists, with the gloves on, a bit of enjoyment that's all. But it's good when you get people in with you that you don't really like, it's better."

Huckerby is a well-known boxing buff and, having taken money off Croft on the outcome of the Mayweather-Hatton fight in Vegas, says he is ready to teach his team-mate another boxing lesson.

"No problem," said Huckerby. "Proper rules, he's going to get hurt. I am going to hit him in the kidneys and he's going to go down."

City fans will be hoping that no one else goes down this season.