Croft backs his old mates to thrive in Championship

Chris LakeyLee Croft belives his former Norwich City team-mates will provide Paul Lambert with the backbone of a successful Championship outfit next season. The current City player of the season believes the likes of Gary Doherty, Wes Hoolahan, Darel Russell, Adam Drury and Chris Martin have enough experience to give City more than a fighting chance in football's second tier when the 2010/11 campaign kicks off in August.Chris Lakey

Lee Croft belives his former Norwich City team-mates will provide Paul Lambert with the backbone of a successful Championship outfit next season.

The current City player of the season believes the likes of Gary Doherty, Wes Hoolahan, Darel Russell, Adam Drury and Chris Martin have enough experience to give City more than a fighting chance in football's second tier when the 2010/11 campaign kicks off in August.

All of them, as well as Croft, were in the City side that slipped out of the Championship last season, but the winger says relegation could ultimately prove to be a blessing in disguise.

"Obviously it's going to be tough because there are some good sides in the Championship," said Croft.

"I think they will be fine. They have a core of players who have been there and done it and have got the ability to play in the Championship.

"I'm sure the manager seems to have done really good job there and he will bring players in during the summer.

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"I know that all the lads I have spoken to respect him and enjoy working for him so I am sure they have the right ingredients to do well there."

Croft - who left Carrow Road for Derby County last summer - believes the star who could shine brightest is Hoolahan, who has lit up League One this season, after manager Paul Lambert began playing him at attacking point of his midfield diamond.

"Wes has always had a lot of ability," said Croft who was signed for City in summer of 2006 by Nigel Worthington.

"I think he has found his feet now and he probably feels appreciated a lot more and I think he is another player who thrives on confidence.

"If you can bring the best out of him he will be brilliant next year, just as he's been this year."

While Croft admits that relegation last summer was "horrible" he believes City's promotion has given them a springboard for the new campaign.

"That was probably the worst time of my career so far," he said.

"Norwich is such a massive, massive club and it was just a shame to be down there, but I think maybe going down and having such a good year this year means everyone's obviously buzzing at the club and I am sure they will be excited for the new season and they will go into it with a lot more belief.

"I think it's maybe a case of having to take one step back to take two steps forward - they've come down, they've had the kick up the backside and they have been flying.

"They've got promoted straight away and I am sure they will go straight back into the new season in the Championship a lot more confident and refreshed and raring to go.

"I was delighted for them. I still come back and see a lot of the lads and they have been at the top for so long now and had a great season.

"I think it was good for them to win at Charlton where they got relegated last year and to get promoted there this season is brilliant.

"I went to the Oldham game and I still speak to quite a few of the lads.

"I've been back down and out with a few of them of them a few times.

"I still speak to Adam Drury, Hucks obviously, Korey, Rusty, Doc, Wes, Chrissy Martin, a few of the young lads - I'm just glad they're doing well."

Croft is preparing to hand over his Barry Butler Trophy, and says it is an award to be cherished.

"It meant a lot to me," said the 24-year-old former Manchester City winger.

"It's a massive accolade when the fans who come and watch you week in, week out vote for you as player of the season.

"That time's coming around and there will be a few of the lads who will be hoping for a chance to put their name on the trophy.

"I don't know who is going to get it because I haven't seen enough games, but they will know it's a great achievement for any player to win and a nice reward for all their hard work during the season," he added.

The latest recipient of the Barry Butler Trophy will be announced at City's last home game of the season, against Carlisle United, on May 8.