Friday, 5 March 2010

McShane central

We know now that it's an absence of at least six weeks for Anthony Gardner after the damage to his ankle ligaments was finally diagnosed.

That may be an optimistic viewpoint, given Gardner's injury record and Hull City's recent record for ambitious prognoses - remember that Jimmy Bullard would, on Phil Brown's prediction, have been fit again for January 30th; he wasn't - and so it may come to pass that Gardner's season ended in a six-yard box at Upton Park.

So, the issue now is who to play at centre back at Everton this weekend?

The obvious choice is Kamil Zayatte, the best defender at the club. However, Brown has kept us all guessing - he likes doing this - by suggesting that Paul McShane may shift across to the middle, with Zayatte or Bernard Mendy playing on the right.

McShane has struggled on the right side of defence lately, albeit as a possessor of the ball rather than as a defender. There is nothing wrong with his commitment, his tackling, his aerial power, his capacity to get up opposition noses. But when needing to pass the ball, or shield it, he has had troubles of late. And he is a central defender by choice, even though he has never played there for the Tigers and wasn't a regular in that position at previous clubs.

Zayatte is a natural footballer and would suit a wider role in defence. It would allow him more scope to go on his lunatic runs, while still instilling within him the discipline and sensibility that goes with being a defender. However, one wonders why Brown would now entertain the idea of putting McShane in the middle and Zayatte on the right, as the two have played together in the back four enough times for him to consider it, and he's never done it. Maybe it is to relieve McShane of the pressures he is currently facing at full back. Maybe it is to give Zayatte a mildly more attack-minded role as rumours persist that he is not happy at the club.

Or maybe, all in all, it's Brown trying to do the mind games thing again.

If McShane plays in the centre, it would only be to accommodate the return of Mendy on the right of defence and, given the Frenchman's tendency to forget what football is whenever he is in the back four, that would be a step backwards of considerable proportions. This wouldn't stop Brown making this change, of course, but at least if the Zayatte/McShane swap goes wrong, they can just go back to where they were.

One hopes that the rumours of McShane shifting into the middle are just that, designed to give fans and bloggers something to debate with themselves before kick-off on Sunday, and to make Everton's management team wonder, just a bit. Gardner needs to be replaced, but don't be surprised (or disappointed) if Zayatte slots straight back into the defence and the rest of it simply stays as it is.