TONIGHT’S Checkatrade Trophy tie against Plymouth Argyle is likely to be too soon for both of them, but we’re not too far from the return of Joss Labadie and Andrew Crofts for Newport County AFC.

Labadie hasn’t played for the Exiles since March due to an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury and Crofts has been sidelined since August with an infected blister that led to an Achilles problem.

But that hasn’t stopped the experienced midfield duo receiving some harsh criticism from certain County supporters over the last few weeks and months.

Some fans did not want Labadie back in an amber shirt after he rejected a new deal in the summer and the news that the former skipper had re-joined the club last month was not met with universal approval.

And Crofts’ injury problems, which have restricted him to just three appearances so far, have led to the current captain being labelled ‘a dud’ in some quarters.

It may be that neither signing works out the way that manager Michael Flynn hoped but, in my view, the criticism the pair have had thrown in their direction this season is both premature and unfair.

Labadie could easily have signed the new contract offered to him last season but he opted instead to concentrate on his rehabilitation and weigh up his options.

And in doing so he actually saved the Exiles around three months’ wages, which he would have been picking up while not being fit to play.

He’s already given the club great service over the past two years and proved that he can make a big difference at League Two level.

If he can get back to his best, which may take a little while after so long out of the game, the 28-year-old could be a key man in the second half of the season as County look to maintain their League Two promotion push.

Explaining his decision to return, Labadie told the Argus last month: “It’s like coming back home. It’s as if I never left.

“This felt like the right thing to do and the right option for me at this point in my career. Hopefully I can push on and help the guys get higher up the table.

“The most important thing for me now is that I’m back fit and I need to be somewhere I’m going to play and establish myself and prove myself all over again.

“I put my body on the line for Newport County every week and they were great for me throughout the summer.

“They offered me the chance to continue my rehab, they’ve supported me and I’ve spoken to the manager and chairman throughout and I couldn’t be more thankful to them.

“They’ve offered me a new contract so I do it owe it to them, and hopefully with my performances from now until the end of the season I can repay them.

“I’ve got a great relationship with the manager and I want to repay the faith he’s shown in me.”

Crofts has had very little chance to show County fans what he can do so far but the Wales international has a fine pedigree higher up the Football League.

His performance in the home win over Crewe Alexandra in August gave us an inkling as to how valuable that experience can be on the pitch and he has also won praise from several members of the squad for his influence in the dressing room.

And he's convinced that he can make an impact in the fourth tier.

“I’ve had a little setback but nothing bad and I want to play for a good few years yet,” said the 34-year-old this month.

“I want to play for as long as I can. I’m still very fit and I look forward to getting back in the team.

“Being captain of the County is a massive honour,” he added.

“The gaffer said he’d make me skipper and he wants me to set an example to the boys.

“It’s an unbelievable changing room, up there with the best [in my career]. It’s a really tight-knit group with some real top characters and a blend of young and old.

“I’ve only been here a couple of months but, from what I’ve seen so far, it’s an exciting time for Newport County.”

Tyreeq Bakinson and Matty Dolan have formed an effective partnership in central midfield so far this season, with Scot Bennett also producing some fine displays in the middle of the park.

But all three have had their fitness issues already and loan star Bakinson could yet be recalled by Bristol City in January.

The return of Labadie and Crofts should provide the squad with a major boost ahead of the busy Christmas and New Year schedule and both deserve the backing of the fans because they could play a big part between now and next May.