Taking a bit of a hop over Zak Whitbread in our Player Reviews as that bit isn’t quite finished…

As nobody would be surprised to learn, I knew nothing about Andrew “new 3 lungs” Crofts when we bought him. I knew he was Brighton captain, but as far as I was concerned he could have been a pacy Zimbabwean left winger.

I noticed his incredible Essex accent at first. As someone who themselves hail from that part of the world, I can only commend him on somehow managing to make himself understood. Then, at our pre-season friendly at home to Everton I noticed his footballing attributes. Yes, he scored an exquisite volley, but his all round game was an absolute joy to behold and you could already tell he was ready to fill in that gap left so suddenly by Darel Russell’s leaving. In fact, so well has Crofts done in the “holding role”, that many seem to have forgotten just how good Russell was in that position.

At our first game to Watford he again scored a cracking goal (via a lovely back pass from promotion hero Simeon Jackson) and showed flashes of the midfield dominance we have been treated to all season.  Yes we lost that game well and truly, but boy have the lessons been learnt!

As the season got into full swing, Crofts was already being talked about as a Player of the Season contender, thanks to goals against Nottingham Forest and some frankly outstanding displays at the bottom of our diamond marking some of the Championship’s finest players out of the game. Adel Taarabt is, I’m sure, willing to testify to this (well, maybe not…) The non-stop running, perfectly-timed tackling, vital goal scoring and the spot-on attitude that Crofts has shown has really typified this vintage Norwich City team.

The top, top (thank you Mr Redknapp) quality displays did admittedly dip slightly, although not that much in the run up to Christmas. This almost certainly had to do with the re-emergence of David “really can pass bloody well” Fox taking over Croft’s role at the base of the diamond and shunting him to the right. Since Christmas, Crofts (and the rest of the team) have played magnificently. Now on the right hand side, he was arguably doing a harder job than before; not only was he slotting in to right back whilst Russell Martin was rampaging down the wing, he was now running the channels and sweeping up any (rare) mistakes in front of him.

A brace against Sheffield United to secure a 2-1 away victory was pivotal in keeping the pace with an in form Cardiff just in front in 2nd and a very good team chasing us down in Swansea just behind in 4th  place. Notwithstanding some truly awful defending from Sheff U, this was perhaps Croft’s finest game summed up best by the City boss himself: “I’ve told him in there he’s creating a niche for himself at the minute in the way he’s playing and performing and he’s been arguably one of the best midfielders in the league”.

This article cannot do justice to the midfield colossus that is Andrew Crofts, but one day I hope he reads it and knows that his quiet, necessary work doesn’t go unnoticed in this footballing loving part of the world!

Next season?

I could sit here and say that Crofts would be a dead-cert for the team next year and while I maintain that he will start our Premier League campaign, no player can take it for granted. Crofts has featured in virtually every game this season and has been the model of consistency, but Lambert now has a reputation of keeping every player on his toes by buying/loaning other players who can push the starting X1 very hard indeed. I believe Crofts will be in the team more often than not as I feel we need to strengthen in other areas that he does not occupy. His versatility in midfield is a real plus point and he doesn’t fall in to the category of “jack of all trades, master of none”. We are going to need someone with his work-rate and tackling ability above all else; not to mention his range of passing. Crofts is one of only 4 or 5 players in our current squad who I can’t see Lambert replacing in our starting line up and I am very much looking forward to seeing him play against Manchester United and Arsenal et al next season!

Oh, and here’s that goal again:

by Alex Levy