Saturday 18 November 2017

Daniel McDonnell: James McCarthy's new role at Everton can only be good news for Ireland fans

James McCarthy scores Everton’s second goal against Bournemouth at Goodison Park. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
James McCarthy scores Everton’s second goal against Bournemouth at Goodison Park. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Is James McCarthy starting to benefit from some tough love? That was the lingering Irish question from the Premier League weekend, after the 26-year-old marked his return to Everton's starting XI by contributing a goal and an assist in a chaotic 6-3 win over Bournemouth.

Ronald Koeman suggested last week that McCarthy still had a future at the club, detailing how they had rejected a move from Newcastle to sign him during the January transfer window.

However, there appeared to be enough evidence from the season to date to treat the Dutchman's comments with some scepticism.

Much as injury issues and the 'club v country' row involving Koeman and Martin O'Neill didn't help the Glaswegian before Christmas, it was clear that his new boss did not view him as an automatic starter.

Jeff Hendrick commits his red-card foul on Jose Holebas at Vicarage Road. Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images
Jeff Hendrick commits his red-card foul on Jose Holebas at Vicarage Road. Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images

That was a contrast from his comfortable position under Roberto Martinez. When Koeman worked hard to renew his association with Morgan Schneiderlin last month, the writing looked to be on the wall - hence Newcastle's attempts to test Everton's resolve with a £15m bid.

However, Koeman decided there was room for McCarthy in his plans and a successful recovery from his most recent spell on the sidelines has led to a jump up the pecking order. He was introduced as a half-time sub at Stoke in midweek and restored to the side for Saturday.

Granted, Idrissa Gueye's spell away at the African Cup of Nations has halted his momentum, yet it was noticeable that Koeman found room for Gareth Barry, Schneiderlin and McCarthy in the same formation at Goodison Park.

Martinez often spoke about the need for his protege to improve going forward, but the former Hamilton and Wigan man was mostly cast as a defensive operator.

A return of five goals in 100 league appearances for Everton before Saturday tells its own story, but Koeman has trialled the player in a more advanced position and, while there was an element of fortune in his goal, a clever touch for the first of Romelu Lukaku's four goals demonstrated that he can be creative.

McCarthy has always been a good athlete and he timed his run well for his own strike, benefiting from a favourable ricochet when his original attempt was blocked.

If he can hone that side of his game under Koeman then it will really benefit his development. He may have to if he wants to stay in his side.

He succeeded in outshining Harry Arter, who came back into Bournemouth's team and succeeded in getting off the mark for the season in the dying stages.

But the afternoon belonged to the hosts and, in a break from the norm this term, McCarthy was the pick of the Irish players in action in the top flight across the weekend.

Burnley have been a good news story, but the sixth-minute dismissal of Jeff Hendrick set the tone for a disappointing defeat at Watford. The Dubliner was given his marching orders for a clumsy challenge on Jose Holebas.

His manager Sean Dyche understood the decision because of the current guidelines.

"There's minimal actual physical contact, but his foot hits the top of the ball, he goes over the top of the ball so what can the ref do nowadays? He's under pressure to give it. He has to send him off," said Dyche.

Hendrick is now set for a spell on the sidelines that will delay his first chance to line out at club level next to Robbie Brady. His old St Kevin's Boys team-mate made his debut as a second-half sub and was sharp as 10-man Burnley pulled a goal back. He replaced striker Andre Gray and was used in an attacking midfield role, which might be a sign of what's to come.

That would please regular left-full Stephen Ward. He might actually step into Hendrick's shoes during his ban, with Steven Defour also on the sidelines, but there should be room for all three Irishmen in Dyche's team if Brady continues on the left wing.

Elsewhere, a Crystal Palace fan was arrested for confronting Damien Delaney after Sam Allardyce's charges conceded four goals in the first-half against Sunderland.

Delaney was subbed at the interval, but Allardyce said the confrontation was not a factor in his decision.

Palace are in the relegation zone after five home defeats on the bounce. Darron Gibson made his Sunderland bow as a 52nd minute substitute. It was the Derryman's first Premier League outing since May of last year.

Irish Independent

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