Neal still trying to make himself Eard

Neal Eardley scores the second goal of the game against Birmingham.
Neal Eardley scores the second goal of the game against Birmingham.
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Neal Eardley might be forgiven for being a little more nervous than most about Boxing Day.

The lad is a fine player who does a good job every time he plays.

And yet, when Alex Baptiste, Craig Cathcart and Ian Evatt are all fit, it is often Eardley who finds himself the odd man out.

And that’s why he will probably be a little fretful now, for Baptiste is back from a hamstring tear and wants to play at Barnsley.

Eardley has a strong case to keep his place though.

He’s started the last five games (it would have been six had injury not ruled him out at Middlesbrough) and has repeatedly earned praise from Ian Holloway.

And yet even the lad himself admits that when all his defensive colleagues are fit and available, he is aware he could be the unlucky one to miss out.

“Obviously Baps is so reliable, he can play anywhere along the backline,” said Eardley. “I don’t think he is nailed-on for right-back but when we are training and we are all fit, I do think to myself, ‘Is he going to play Baps or is he going to stick me there and change one of the centre halves?’

“But at the end of the day there is nothing I can do about it. The manager picks the team and you’ve got to respect that decision.

“It does mean there is a little bit of pressure on me though. When I start I do feel as though I have to play well to stay in. But that should be the case. That is what you want, especially in this division because we have so many games and you want everybody to be fit. All I know is that I can say I’ll always be ready to play, and that goes for all the lads here – whether we are in the starting 11 or not, we are all together and ready to do our bit.”

Eardley scored his first goal of the season in last month’s draw with Birmingham, a sizzling shot from 25 yards.

For someone with the sweetest of right feet, and with the ability to hit a ball like a cannon, it’s something he thinks he should do a little more of.

“I do feel as though I should score more often. I’ve spoken with the gaffer about it,” he said.

“We saw Baps do it at Palace earlier in the season and if you were to ask Baps he would tell you that he is a centre-half, not a right-back.

“When I see Baps doing it, it makes me think. The gaffer has mentioned Baps’ goal and he told me that’s what I should be looking to do, get forward.

“He told me I do it in training more or less every day so I am definitely looking to try and do it a lot more in games.”

Never mind goal. With Baptiste fit, the first priority for Eardley at Barnsley is starting.