With a play-off semi-final defeat to Exeter still fresh in the hearts and minds of Imps supporters, Lincoln City immediately sought to ease their pain by announcing that Player of the Season Neal Eardley had booked a new two-year ticket aboard the Lincoln Loco.
Arguably one of the signings of the summer in League Two last August, the former Premier League player brought a calm assurance and assured presence to the right-back berth, in his first-ever campaign in the basement, after being shown the door by Port Vale following a short-lived trial prior to his heading to the Yellow Bellow county.
Still only 29, Eardley brought a wealth of higher-league experience to Sincil Bank and quickly made the ‘No.2′ spot his own with a series of stunning performances that left former right-back holder Sean Long a virtual spectator for much of the season. On occasions, Eardley had to switch to left-back and was just as effective down that flank, proving his versatility as the Imps battled hard for a playoff spot in their first term back in the Football League.
Tough as teak as the back, a great crosser of the ball, calm under pressure, an excellent motivator and a player who is very rarely beaten by opposing attackers, Eardley proved his worth ten times over and justified the club’s faith in offering him a one-year deal.
Having played over 30 times for Blackpool in the Premier League in the 2010-11 season, Eardley was then a regular at Championship level as the Tangerines’ dalliance in the top flight was short-lived, but after being released by the Lancashire club in 2013, it had been a frustrating time for the Welshman… until he got the call from Danny Cowley.
The Llandudno-born defender struggled with injuries after signing for Birmingham, which prompted then manager Gary Rowett to describe him as ‘the unluckiest player going’ and in four seasons he managed less than 40 appearances, after also appearing for Leyton Orient, Hibernian and Northampton.
That he was shown the door by the Cobblers last summer, could have spelled the end of a once-promising career that had been effectively been curtailed by injury after injury. That he snapped up Lincoln’s offer of a one-year deal to get his career back on track to go on and play 54 games is the measure of his determination and commitment to the cause, plus the Cowley’s handling of a player who has been so suspect to knocks, niggles and more serious affirmations.
And not only play 54 games but to also sweep the board in the Player of the Season awards, collecting the Players’ and Fans’ accolades after an impressive campaign with the Imps.
City have employed some fine right-backs during their history, but after just one season Eardley is already being touted as one of the club’s finest in that position, which is why his penning of a two-year contract just days ago has been received with universal acclaim and why optimism already abounds in abundance with the new season still just under three months away.
Writer: The Imposter
Reaction On 100% Imps:
Skip155: “This is a proper statement of intent. Lincoln pulling it off and Neil buying into the journey. Brilliant.”
Luke Imp: “A good start to the summer. Didn’t take long for DC to sign him up last summer, did it? 45 minutes of the final pre-season friendly?
Another player who hadn’t played much in the previous year or two, who we’ve got going again – 54 appearances. That’ll be the most he’s played in a season for a while, if not full stop.”
PerthImp: “Just brilliant and a real statement of intent, and loyalty. Great to have you on board again Neal. So looking forward to next season.”
Thank you to Graham Burrell and Lincoln City for the photograph!
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) May 21, 2018