Neal Eardley, Callum Connolly, Jason Shackell, Harry Toffolo
I almost feel like I have to write ‘the much-maligned’ before Callum’s name because for a short period he became the scapegoat some of our supporters love to have. Admittedly, he didn’t have a great game against Oxford but there’s a bit of the ‘Tom Champion’ here; he came in at a time when a natural dip occurred and his arrival was believed to be the problem. It wasn’t.
I don’t think there’s scope in the middle of the park for him; Joe Morrell and Michael O’Connor is the natural pairing there, combining experience and endeavour, youth and flair. That leaves the Under 20 World Cup winner looking for an ‘in’ elsewhere and centre back is likely to be it. My gut feeling is this is the choice Michael Appleton will make.
Over the course of his career, Connolly has played centre back and this is one reason I feel we’ll go with him in there. He played there for Wigan a few times in his spells with the Latics and for Everton Under 21s as well. In terms of a natural replacement, he’s perhaps the closest we have. He’s a good height too and his younger legs will give us something that we haven’t had in the middle for a while; some pace.
In his games as a central defender, he’s won 78% of his defensive duels, 62% of his aerial duels and made seven clearances a game on average. He’s featured there against Leeds United, Derby County, Stoke City, Aston Villa and Newcastle United which suggests he is a credible and likely starter tomorrow night.