Safri's mission

Youssef Safri is fighting fit for Saturday's Championship curtain raiser at Leeds and desperate to play a full part in the Canaries promotion assault.

Norwich midfielder Youssef Safri is fighting fit for Saturday's Championship curtain raiser at Leeds and desperate to play a full part in the Canaries promotion assault.

The 29-year-old Moroccan international appeared just nine times during the second half of last season after returning from African Cup of Nations duty fatigued and nursing a niggling groin problem.

Safri's encouraging pre-season displays suggest the all action midfielder is back to his marauding best ahead of the Elland Road trip.

"I'm so pleased with how it has gone for me personally," he said. "It's been a hard six weeks but we've had six matches with only one defeat and that is a positive. For myself the aim was to get fit because I want to play in as many games as possible this season.

"The biggest frustration for me last year was the side went on a five-match winning run just before I left for the African Nations which got us near the play-offs. Then I came back with a groin problem which was bad for me and the club."

The fans' favourite detects a renewed sense of purpose around the camp after last season's miserable Championship campaign.

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"I think there is an extra determination," he said. "The preparation so far has been 100%. I've been working with the lads here for three seasons and I don't remember us being as sharp or focussed.

"Most of our players have Premiership experience and know what it takes to play at that level. The major difference with the Championship is how physically hard it is. You have to suffer for 46 games. The aim for the club is to be challenging for promotion but we must take it step-by-step.

"The signs in pre-season have been good. Hopefully we can carry it into the start against Leeds."

The former Coventry man believes an opening day test at last season's defeated play-off finalists holds no fears after Eddie Lewis' stoppage time equaliser denied the visitors three points back in March.

"They are a top club as well so we know it will be tough," he said. "We played really good at Leeds in that game. Hopefully the only difference is we pick up the win. Last year we didn't start well at all and it took us some matches to get going."

Lee Croft's big money arrival from Manchester City should offer much-needed midfield competition - a challenge Safri welcomes.

"My aim is to get into the starting line up and stay there," he said. "Players aren't happy at missing games but you can never have enough quality. A few of the lads who knew Lee said he was a good player and you can see that in training already.

"He's a great lad - always smiling and having a joke which is important because we have a nice set of lads. When I first came here I really liked the fact it was so friendly - a family club."

Croft's former boss Stuart Pearce yesterday paid tribute to the departed 21-year-old.

"Lee was a smashing boy to have around the place," said Pearce. "He'd been on the fringes of the first team squad for a long time and just failed to make that breakthrough. We felt at the stage he is it would be more beneficial for him to go out and play first team football.

"The move to Norwich is great on his behalf and the finance the club received was spot on for us.

"Lee needs to play football and with the likelihood of that being in our reserve team it would have been disappointing for someone like him."