2017/18 Opinion – Defenders Part Two

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Continuing my analysis of the players this season, we move on to the defenders whom I class as ‘regulars’, or who are permanently signed on for next season.

I’m not going to dither about with pointless words, let’s get stuck straight into the analysis, shall we?

Neal Eardley

Seriously, what can I say about Neal Eardley that hasn’t been said already? He arrived at Sincil Bank with three years of injury hell behind him, missed one league game (which we lost 4-1 at home) and secured the Player of the Season award. In terms of debut seasons, I’d say that was a good one.

Of course, Neal has an advantage over most of our players, he’s played Premier League football, not just a couple of games as a kid either, but a full season for Blackpool. He’s represented Wales too, giving him the sort of pedigree you don’t usually find at this level.

If someone asked me his strengths I’m not sure where I’d start. His positioning is great, he reads the game superbly and he’s cooler than the Fonz in December. His delivery into the box is top class, he has eleven assists this season in all competitions and even chipped in with a goal, one of the best we’ve seen this season, to beat Cheltenham 1-0.

He’s versatile too, he can operate on the left or right, but it is the latter where he looks most at home. He rarely puts a foot wrong, is strong in the tackle and even stronger in possession. I’ve said before he has no business plying his trade in League Two, my fear is if we’re still here next season, he might not be. Sources tell me the main issue regarding his new deal is a possible relocation, but that could be a good thing because it suggests a two-year deal is on the table.

If he plays like he did this season throughout his Imps career, I’d give him five years and be done with it. Without a doubt, one of our best players this season.

Sam Habergham

He’s the steady seven of the National League campaign, the improving left back that ended the season with a couple of vital free kicks and near cult status. Unfortunately, the step up to league football has not been kind to him.

I like Sam, both as a player and a person. He’s very measured when you speak to him, articulate and intelligent but guarded too. He won’t ever give you a controversial quote or an ambiguous answer that can be misinterpreted. He is a thinking footballer, one who will go on to be a suit and tie after the game, maybe with the PFA or the FA. That’s the impression I get.

This season though, he’s struggled in my opinion. He missed out on pre-season and the first few weeks of the campaign just as he did last time out, but I’m not sure he ever caught back up. Whereas Neal has all those assists, Sam has just four and not a single goal to his name. Defender’s aren’t measured on their attacking prowess alone, but Sam hasn’t proven as adept at bombing on at this level.

Defensively he’s not been bad, this review isn’t intended to say he’s been a poor player, but he has been a subtle seven rather than a steady seven, and whereas last season he raised to and eight or nine on occasion, this season he did not.

He signed a new deal earlier in the campaign and hopefully with a year under his belt and a full pre-season, we can start to see the real Sam Habergham once again. He hasn’t been terrible this season, not at all, but there’s more to come from him. I also still believe that if we were to go up, he’s League One quality, despite his average showing this campaign.

Next up – the most decorated captain in Imps history