Naylor relishing new defensive role

RICHARD Naylor celebrated only his second senior start as a central defender by earning the man-of-the-match accolade at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.

RICHARD Naylor celebrated only his second senior start as a central defender by earning the man-of-the-match accolade at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, writes Carl Marston.

Naylor has spent virtually the whole of his career at Ipswich Town as a goal-hungry striker, renowned for his full-blooded displays leading the front-line.

But the 26-year-old has now settled into a new role, at the heart of defence, as a calm and collected centre-half rather than a bustling striker.

At Hillsborough on Saturday, he performed as though he had spent the whole of his life as a central defender, such was his impeccable showing alongside the commanding Dane, Thomas Gaardsoe, in a back four.

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Skipper Matt Holland took the plaudits with a 17th-minute winner, but it was Naylor who contributed as much as anyone to a precious 1-0 victory in South Yorkshire.

"I'm really enjoying it as a defender," said Naylor, who was born down the road at Leeds.

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"It's certainly a bit different. You have to concentrate intensely for the whole 90 minutes.

"As a striker, it doesn't matter so much if you have a lapse in concentration. But as a defender, every mistake is magnified.

"I wouldn't mind continuing as a centre-half for the rest of the season, especially if it means staying in the team until the end of the campaign.

"I'm just glad that all my injuries are behind me," added Naylor.

Town rarely looked like conceding against a very poor Sheffield Wednesday side. Talented Albanian Shefki Kuqui and ex-Portsmouth and Manchester City striker Lee Bradbury were short-changed by Naylor and Gaardsoe, as were attacking substitutes Tony Crane and Lloyd Owusu.

As a result, keeper Andy Marshall was required to make only a handful of saves, mainly from long-range shots.

"We managed to keep them at bay quite comfortably," continued Naylor, who came up through the youth ranks at Portman Road during the early 1990s.

"Sheffield played the ball a lot longer in the second half, and their tall substitute (Tony Crane) made it difficult. However, I thought we kept the ball quite well towards the end.

"Thomas (Gaardsoe) and I help each other. Although he is a natural centre-half, he is still very young, so it is a real combined effort. Thomas has been more accustomed to playing on the left-side of a three-man central defence, so he's had to adapt as well.

"It would have been nice to get the second goal, to ease the pressure, but in the end we didn't need it.

"This win keeps us very much in the hunt for a play-off spot," added Naylor.

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