Irish full-back proves worth but faces fight to nail Everton starting spot
SEAMUS COLEMAN had good reason to really feel the pain of being on the wrong end of a shock result on Tuesday night. He needed Carling Cup progression more than the experienced Everton heads around him who fluffed their lines at Brentford.
With elimination comes the possibility that Coleman's starting chances will be limited this side of Christmas. The League of Ireland graduate is still awaiting his first full Premier League appearance, with manager David Moyes retaining his reluctance to throw the Donegal lad in from the outset when it really matters.
Tradition dictates that we are now at the stage of the season where Moyes' future is debated. Everton's penchant for slow starts, combined with a long-serving manager, has pricked the natural desire of football supporters to call for heads.
The treatment of Coleman, a £60,000 purchase from Sligo Rovers, has protruded into the debate about the Scot's capabilities. There are two schools of thought. One is that Moyes has carefully nurtured a raw talent onto the fringes of a real breakthrough.
The other is that he remains too loyal to old stagers like Tony Hibbert and Phil Neville, when a different manager might have thrown caution to the wind and fast-tracked the exciting new talent, and seen the 21-year-old as the man for the present, not just the bright hope for the long term.
Irish supporters are beginning to ask similar questions, wondering if a conservative manager can find room for a maverick by the standards of your average full-back. "I like him," said Giovanni Trapattoni earlier this week. "But he is one for the future."
In many respects, the events of the last seven days serve as a microcosm for the bones of the Coleman debate.
He's appeared in three of Everton's five Premier League games in this campaign, introduced as a sub on each occasion. Moyes sends for Coleman when the Toffees are chasing the game, with his tendency to bomb forward from right-back providing an extra option.
With the hosts struggling against Newcastle at Goodison last Saturday, the Killybegs lad was readied at the break. He made a positive impression as Everton vainly chased an equaliser, with the blame laid at the feet of those in front of him. Yet he was also extremely fortunate to avoid the concession of a penalty when he took down Kevin Nolan with a rash challenge in the box.
On Tuesday, Coleman was pitched in from the start, no great surprise considering Moyes had stated his intention to use the Carling Cup to aid his development. "We'd like to help him progress," said Moyes recently. "But there is competition there with Tony Hibbert and Phil Neville. He is pushing all the time to get into the team."
Within six minutes, Coleman demonstrated his effectiveness in the opposition half by opening the scoring with a calm finish. On Sky Sports News, John Salako raved about the man he called 'See-mus.'
Yet he also gave away a penalty as he suffered a few nervous defensive moments, although midfielder Magaye Gueye could have offered better protection, instead of leaving the Irishman outnumbered.
Nevertheless, fears about his defensive rawness linger. Indeed, given his ability to take players on, it was no surprise that Moyes tried him in midfield against Aston Villa. "We are short of a right-sided midfielder at the moment," he said. "Who knows? Seamus could be the one to give it a go there."
Speaking on Newstalk the other night, BBC pundit and Blackpool legend Jimmy Armfield -- who watched Coleman as he helped inspire the Tangerines to promotion with a brilliant cameo at the tail-end of last term -- suggested that he will develop into a winger as opposed to a defender.
He believes that a shortage of pace could leave him vulnerable to explosive attackers in the Premier League.
"He just lacks real pace," said Armfield. "But he was a good player for Blackpool. He got a free rein to play here.
"Now, playing at the top level, it's not quite as easy. I thought he did quite well (against Newcastle). He was lucky because he should have had a penalty given against. He got caught with his lack of pace but, nevertheless, he's a prospect, a real prospect. I don't think he'll finish at full-back. I think he might finish, perhaps, in midfield."
Certainly, the analysis could be relevant with respect to his international future. Trapattoni has shied away from using the tidy Kevin Foley at full-back, despite his constant presence in squads, instead opting for the physicality of Paul McShane or Stephen Kelly as an alternative to John O'Shea.
Foley now primarily operates in midfield for Wolves and Trapattoni experimented with him in that department back in May. For all that Coleman is an aggressive tackler and combative in all he does, it wouldn't be a great surprise to see him pushed into a more advanced berth for club and country.
The suspicion, however, is that the voices calling for his rapid elevation are going to be disappointed for a while longer.