TO say it’s been something of an odd season so far for Neal Eardley would be putting it mildly.
Pre-season he found himself moved from his familiar and fav-oured position of right-back to central midfield.
Then he was left out of the first game at Hull, amid stories about a contract dispute and unhappiness at his wage.
He captained a second string side in the Carling Cup at Sheffield Wednesday and missed, in rather horrible fashion, a spot kick in the penalty shoot-out.
Then came news he’d finally signed a new contract, followed by a brilliant display from the bench at Brighton, which helped Pool grab the unlikeliest of draws as they recovered from 2-0 down.
Unfortunately, in an incident which seemed to sum up his campaign, he badly dislocated his little finger towards the end of the contest and had to have surgery to repair the damage.
That forced him to miss the next game at Crystal Palace, denying him the opportunity of a first start of the season.
It’s been an interesting few weeks to say the least, but Eardley claims it hasn’t been difficult to cope with and says he’s just happy to have signed a new deal – one-year with a further 12-month option.
“I’m really pleased to have signed for another year and get the contract extension sorted,” he said.
“It’s a shame my injury has come when it has, but I just hope that I can get back into training as soon as possible and get my place back. As for the contract, we’d been talking for a while and ideally it would have been sorted over the summer, but I can’t say it’s been a distraction.”
What has been too difficult to cope with, though, is trying to get used to a new position.
Boss Ian Holloway told Eardley pre-season he felt he could be an effective central midfielder.
He’s played there several times since, though it was notable how much more comfortable he looked when he came on at Brighton at right-back.
“Position-wise I don’t know where I’m going to end up,” admitted Eardley. I’ve really enjoyed playing in midfield.
“It’s a big learning curve playing in there and I can watch people in that position that I’ve played with for years and learn off them.
“But if somebody was to ask me what position I play then I would say right-back because I haven’t played enough in midfield to say that I’m more comfortable there.
“I still have a lot to learn in that position.”
It’s hard, at this stage, to see Eardley nailing down a place in midfield.
Barry Ferguson and Keith Southern, so effective so far this campaign, look to have those places sewn up.
Eardley’s best hope is to win the right-back slot, a task not made any easier by the arrival on loan of James Hurst – a West Brom teenager who is meant to be a top prospect.
But that just sums up Eardley’s year.
It’s been one obstacle after another.
If he can keep his head up, and shine when he next gets a chance, he has every chance of winning the right-back slot.
And if he does, no one will be able to say he doesn’t deserve it.