The poll for your Stacey West right back has been up for less than 24 hours and the current standings are astounding.
Neal Eardley, our current right back, is miles ahead. Every other voter has chosen him ahead of some very distinguished Imps players. It isn’t a case of him being recent and people plumping for him either, I’ve seen fans commenting that they saw the Taylor era and still feel Neal Eardley is the best there is, the best there was and maybe the best there ever will be.
Having arrived on a free transfer with little fanfare or pomp, is he the best signing Lincoln City have ever made? He’s a player with Premier League experience and, arguably, Premier League quality. He’s certainly caught your imagination and we undoubtedly look a better team with him.
When he joined, Danny said: “Technically and tactically you can see he’s played in the Premier League and will be a good role model. He’s one of those that makes everyone around him 5% better.” 5% better? I suspect it is much higher than that.
Neal Eardley has missed two Lincoln City games this season, both games we lost. More pertinently, they are two of the three occasions we’ve conceded four goals, the other being with ten men against Notts County. He missed the 4-2 defeat at Luton and the 4-1 defeat at home to Crewe. Notice a pattern? Neil sits out, we concede four. I know football is more complicated than that, but it does tell a striking story, does it not?
He’s up there as our leading ‘assister’, according to ESPN.com. He’s got eight in all competitions, three more than Rheady with five and twice as many as both Harry and Sam. So not only is he an organiser at the back, he’s critical going forward too. We’ve all seen that lovely delivery he has, pinpoint and always kept away from the keeper. If we could clone him I dare say we’d have him on either flank, both at the back and possibly on the wing. That isn’t detrimental to our other players, but the truth appears to be that Neal Eardley is twice as good as the rest of our players, and we do have some incredibly good players on our books.
Earlier in the season he triggered a six-month extension to his contract, but recently it was revealed talks had begun on a longer deal. Over and above any new faces, I want to see Neal Eardley remain at the club.
It isn’t just his organisation, nor his ability to provide goals. He is a proper footballer (as my Dad would say), a player who is comfortable on the ball and understands the game. He is calm too, how many times has he fooled a winger with a little shimmy or turn? That isn’t an easy skill, not when you’re the last line of defence and a slip could cost a goal. He rarely slips, he’s just collected and measured in everything he does. When he needs to charge back at a hundred miles an hour, he does. When he needs to overlap the wide player, he does. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him caught out of position, because he reads the game so well.
My favourite right back of all time is Mark Bailey, a man with a thunderous tackle. Think Michael Bostwick, but with a lot less hair and a little less direction. Bailey wasn’t skilled, but he was hard as nails. Neal Eardley is completely different, he doesn’t need a thunderous tackle or a blood-curdling charge to get people off their seats, he just need the ball and some space. Look at his goal against Cheltenham, okay he doesn’t score many, but when he does it is worth the wait. I’ve watched a lot of football at Sincil Bank, but I rarely see a shot that measured or accurate and believe 100% it was exactly what the player intended.
I’ve no doubt at all that in a day or so I’m going to be naming Neal Eardley as your Stacey West right back. I doubt anyone from the current team will make the other spots, I’d certainly like to believe that won’t be the case, purely because of the quality they’re up against. It is highly unusual for a footballer to become a legend while he is still at the club, not to this extent and not in a position such as right back. A centre forward might come in and score twenty goals in thirty appearances and everyone lauds him, but to come in at full back, switch from left to right and become one of the best players to have ever represented the club?
That, Mr Eardley, is the sign of a very special footballer indeed. Free transfer? Last minute stop-gap? Or the greatest move Danny’s made in the transfer market ever?