The news coming out of today’s press conference is incredibly encouraging for Imps fans; Neal Eardley is in discussions over a new deal.
Since his arrival in the summer, Eardley has proven himself to be possibly the player of the season. He came in as cover at left back, Sam’s injury ruled him out and we desperately needed someone to fill the role. Bob Harris tried out, Matthew Briggs had a couple of games as did Brandon Ormund-Ottiwell. We were also led to believe by some that Noah Chesmain was close to a loan deal. None came off.
Instead, just days before the season started, Neal Eardley joined the team photo shoot, with Danny later confirming he’d signed a six-month deal. Eardley had suffered three years of injury hell, falling from Premier League star to a failed trial at Port Vale. Danny saw something though, to be fair in his friendly outings I think we all did too.
Neal is, without wanting to mince my words, bloody brilliant. He’s calm and assured, he gets up and down the line like nobody before and he’s got an air of class whenever he’s on the ball. He rarely gets caught defensively, he’s always a willing runner and as we saw against Cheltenham, he’s got a shot on him too.
Neal is a super right back, he’s keeping the solid and dependable Sean Long on the bench yet he can easily switch to the left if Sam picks up an injury. He’s practically got it all, certainly for this level and everyone at the club was delighted when he triggered his contract extension. Had it not been for his injuries, I confidently predict he’d be in Ryan Giggs’ mind for the international team. I honestly believe if he’d stayed in the top two divisions he would still be a Welsh international.
In January, several people messaged me with sensationalist rumours about Eardley going to Mansfield. Yeah, Evans wishes. Not having him on a long term deal was a worry, but I never imagined for one second he’d jump ship, certainly not just for money. Neal Eardley doesn’t strike me as a mercenary. After today, that belief has been reinforced.
In the press conference, Eardley spoke glowingly of the Imps and his willingness to remain here beyond his current deal: “I’m really enjoying my football here and if that was to be prolonged, I would be delighted. There’s been conversations between myself and the manager and they seem to be going quite well at the minute.”
Exciting? Absolutely. Eardley has earned his stars here, Lincoln fans don’t warm to players for no reason and one bad game can often leave you with a mountain to climb in terms of popularity. Look at Jordan Maguire-Drew, he started badly and despite some stunning EFL Trophy goals, never won the fans back. Ditto Tom Champion, albeit with the goals. Ditto Billy Knott. We might have great fans, but as a group we’re very expectant of our players. Neal Eardley has never put a foot wrong. He’s committed but disciplined, a role model for kids and a leader on the pitch. Even in his interviews he’s measured, he never walks into traps laid by tricky questions. When asked about the training ground he remain diplomatic and thoughtful.
So, is his signature the most important of the summer? We need a striker and that will clearly be addressed, but no matter which division we’re in, Neal Eardley will be a huge part of everything we’re trying to achieve. If we’re in League Two, he would continue to be a cut above the rest. In League One we step up to a level more befitting of his abilities and we have no worries about our defence.
I’m not going to put a silly poll asking which is more important, football is all relative and the one we don’t get will be the one we lament. If we signed a great striker but Neal ended up somewhere else, we’d be gutted at him going. If he stays but we don’t bring in a striker, we’d be exactly where we are now. Football fans always seem to focus on the things we don’t have, not the things we do. At present, we have the best right back in League Two and having listened to his presser today, I’m more confident we’ll have the best in League One next season.