IAN Holloway thinks Neal Eardley has matured in the last 12 months – and the player himself agrees.
The full-back has been an ever present in Pool’s back-four, and recently became a father for the first time.
It’s a far cry from this time last season, when he was the first to be dropped whenever Holloway made changes. And the Blackpool boss says he sees a huge improvement in the Welshman.
“A huge event has happened in his life, with the birth of his little girl, and I really think this is the making of him,” said Holloway.
“Neal realises now what I’ve been talking about for years.
“He played a lot of games really early in his life.
“I kept taking him out, and putting him in, and he probably thought it was always going to be him.
“But at the moment he’s picking himself in my team week-in, week-out.
“I think his fitness levels and his concentrations are excellent at the moment.
“He’s always had a brilliant pass in him – he hit one with the outside of his boot against Middlesbrough which was just sensational.
“I haven’t seen anyone get the better of him this season.”
Eardley was one of Holloway’s first signings at Bloomfield Road, for a fee of around £200,000.
And he’s certainly been value for money. Tuesday’s game against Middlesbrough was his 100th appearance for the Seasiders.
Although not everyone was aware of his record.
“I didn’t even know it was my 100th game on Tuesday, if I’m honest,” Eardley told The Gazette.
“I was delighted with how it went, the game couldn’t have gone any better really.
“Obviously, we wanted to bounce back from Saturday at Barnsley, when we didn’t do as well as we know we can.
“We wanted to get out the traps early and we did that all over the part.
“Once we did that, we were able to do what we do best.”
For a player of only 23, Eardley is hugely experienced.
He boasts more than 200 senior games and 16 international appearances for Wales.
But it’s only this season when he’s felt he’s really come on.
He said: “I feel like I’ve matured as a player lately, obviously games help that.
“When players are having a run in the team you get that bit of confidence about your game.
“You also get a feeling that you’re more part of it all really.
“I know there are lads who aren’t playing at the moment who can come in and do a job, so it keeps us on our toes.
“That’s not just in my position, it’s all over the pitch.
“I just have to keep working hard and hopefully that will be good enough to keep me in the team.”
In recent seasons Eardley would find himself rested to accommodate Pool’s other defenders.
It was a regular occurrence for Alex Baptiste to drop to right-back, with Ian Evatt and Craig Cathcart in the middle.
But so far this term, it’s the centre halves who have been sitting it out.
Eardley added: “This time last year it was me who was in and out of the side.
“We have so many good players, so that was something I just had to accept.
“It’s up to the Gaffer at the end of the day.
“Obviously I’m buzzing that I’ve played every minute of the season so far, I’m really pleased.
“I set myself a target before the season to start in the side.
“As a player you set yourself little personal targets, I’d like to beat the amount of appearances I had last season and stuff like that really.
“I’m on the right path so far and hopefully I can keep it going.”