Big week for stalwart Naylor

IT promises to be a big week for stalwart defender Richard Naylor as the club's longest-serving player looks to clock up his 300th Blues appearance on Sunday after locking horns with his home-town club tonight.

By Derek Davis

IT promises to be a big week for stalwart defender Richard Naylor as the club's longest-serving player looks to clock up his 300th Blues appearance on Sunday after locking horns with his home-town club tonight.

A Leeds United fan as a youngster, Naylor is relishing the chance for Town to do the double over the Championship high-flyers and then hit a major milestone at local rivals Norwich City.

Add the 11 league games he made while on loan at Millwall and Barnsley and it is not a bad record for a player whose career was threatened by a crippling list of injuries in his younger days.

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Naylor has missed just two games in the past two seasons, and both of those through suspension,

A veteran at just 28, Naylor admits his switch from attack to defence has prolonged his already eventful career and he has no plans of packing in for quite a while yet.

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Naylor said: “It has always in the back of my mind that other players had gone 10 years without injury then didn't play for five.

“I had my injuries early and struggled for four or five years, missing games. But now I have had a good run without missing games and, hopefully, that can see me through for the rest of my career. I still feel I have a good few years left in me, and I have always wanted to stay here for the rest of that career.

“Switching positions has definitely helped me. It has helped my knees and helped my consistency. Playing as a forward I would get 10 games in a row and something would go. So, to play a whole season without an injury is excellent.”

Naylor will clock up the 300th game almost 10 years since making his debut for Town as a substitute in the 3-1 win at Sheffield United in September 1996, a landmark that will be marked by a testimonial match against the successful Wembley 2000 side, almost 10 years to the day.

Naylor said: “We have been given September 2 as that is an international weekend.

“I'm happy to take that date and everyone I have spoken too has made positive noises. I was not sure if people would prefer to see a big team down here instead but it seems everyone would like to see that Wembley team back and a few others, like Kieron Dyer as well.

“I asked George Burley to come back as manager but he wanted to play so we are thinking of putting on a legends five-a-side at half-time so he can play in that with the likes of John Wark.”

Although an adopted son of East Anglia now, Naylor relishes the clashes with his home-town club, with many of his Yorkshire-based family among the crowd.

He said: “We have had some good results against them and they are usually entertaining games which many of my family all like to come along.”

Naylor dismisses the notion that Town were lucky to leave Elland Road earlier this season with all three points despite being under the cosh for much of the match.

He said: “They dominated but we defended really well and we had someone in Sam Parkin who could stick the ball in the back of the net and we got the just rewards.”

And Naylor warned Leeds that tonight's side are much nearer to what Town are looking to achieve than the side that plundered the points in Yorkshire in September with a 2-0 win.

He said: “We are getting to be a better team than we were then. At that stage we were very inconsistent but although we are not quite there yet, we are getting to be a much better team.

“It will an interesting game and a test for us. They are one of the top sides in the division and we believe we should be one of the top sides in the division and feel we are getting towards that.

“We are getting towards our best form with our best team, even though we are still missing a couple of key players.

“We are still having to play one up front with one off him, which is not ideal, but we are edging towards our strongest side.

“This will be a good measure of how far away we are from being able to get into that top six. We have never been overawed when we play the top-six sides and this will be another big one for us.”

The Blues are unbeaten in four league games, with wins over Luton and Southampton boosting confidence to a new level.

Naylor said: “Winning gives you great belief. When you are not winning it gives everyone a downer and no matter how hard you try and stay positive it is very difficult.

“You try your best to stay positive, especially for the young lads, but when you are winning that is when the belief and confidence comes back.

“We are turning the corner and playing better and everyone enjoys your football then. It doesn't matter how well you are playing individually or as a team - if you are not winning it is no fun.”

A fourth goal for the season would also enable Naylor to celebrate a special week, and take his career total to 42.

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