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Football: LEON AT HIS BEST AFTER WORKOUTS.

Byline: By MICHELLE WILSON

EARLY morning swims and long-distance runs have ensured Coventry City's new striker Leon Best is in fine form for the arduous campaign ahead.

Best had a handful of Championship clubs chasing his signature when he decided to leave Southampton in the summer.

But he had no idea of the rigorous pre-season regime that awaited him - not that he is complaining.

The entire Sky Blues squad have declared they are feeling fitter than ever following performance manager John Harbin's strict programme.

And that is borne out by the fact that Coventry scored three second-half goals in both their 4-1 opening day win at Barnsley and their 3-0 Carling Cup victory over Notts County on Tuesday.

"Our fitness levels are high and we're getting stronger in games, while other teams are staying the same or losing a bit of fitness," said Best, who has moved to Leamington with his girlfriend, Rio.

"In pre-season we were up at 6am to go swimming when we were in Bath because we used the university's Olympic pool. We did a lot of lengths even though I'm not the best swimmer.

"John had us doing strengthening work by running long distances and then short distances.

"This is definitely the fittest I have ever been. Pre-season is the hardest time because the boys are tired and players don't want to be doing loads of running but it has brought us together and that is a good thing for the club."

Best's fee for joining the Sky Blues has yet to be decided by a tribunal, but after deciding it was time to leave the Saints, he took advice from a team-mate whose career was brought to life by Coventry manager Iain Dowie at Oldham.

"There were quite a lot of clubs from the Championship interested but as soon as I heard Dowie was interested, I knew this was the club for me," said the 20-year-old.

"I have heard so many good things about him from friends including Fitz Hall.

"I think the gaffer has got the qualities that will help me. He was a striker so I can learn off him and he has already brought a real togetherness to the team."

Best faces strong competition for the two centre-forward berths from Kevin Kyle, Leon McKenzie, Michael Mifsud, Dele Adebola, Robbie Simpson, Wayne Andrews and Donovan Simmonds.

Not that the product of Notts County's Centre of Excellence is fazed by that.

Best, who bagged his first goal for the Sky Blues against the Magpies, continued: "Competition drives you on and it drives the team on.

"We have six strikers already with a goal apiece and if we can keep doing that then we're going to be up there in the league.

"I haven't set myself any targets for the season. I would just like to keep scoring. Last season I scored 17 goals in total and that is my best tally.

"We have had a good start and we have to keep that up."

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TOUGH: striker Leon Best
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 19, 2007
Words:506
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