The ongoing debate over the best position for Gary Doherty looks like it might finally have been resolved.
The Republic of Ireland international has given our coaches quite a conundrum since his arrival from Luton Town in April. He is one of a rare breed of versatile players who can operate both as a centre-forward and a
centre-half and it’s been a fair old task trying to determine in which position he performs best.
But the puzzle may have been solved over the course of our last few games. Doherty was drafted into the side for the trip to Ipswich Town at the end of December and played as a striker, but failed to shine in a below par team performance.
Then, in the following match here against Newcastle United, George Graham shuffled the side and deployed Gary in a three-man defence alongside Sol Campbell and Chris Perry. On that occasion the team played well and Gary turned in an excellent all-round display, scoring one, creating another and looking assured at the back.
That form continued against Leyton Orient in the FA Cup third round when, despite playing at the back once more, Gary netted the winner with a
last-minute header and he kept his place at Everton last week. So, has the debate finally been settled?
"To be a centre-forward in the Premiership, you have to have something special," says Gary. "You need to be a deadly finisher, awesome in the air and I don’t think I’m either of those at the moment. But at centre-half, I feel I’ve got the qualities to maybe go further in the game at this level.
"It’s certainly going better for me in that position at the moment," adds Gary. "I definitely enjoy it there more and I feel a lot more comfortable playing as a defender.
"I played against Ipswich up front and didn’t do too well although the team didn’t do too well either. I was particularly disappointed with my performance but since I’ve been moved to centre-back, I think I’ve done okay.
"I’ve been breaking forward from defence which is what the gaffer wants me and Sol to do and I’m happy to do that. To be able to play up front you need to be comfortable in possession and that certainly helps me to bring the ball out from the back.
"But it’s difficult to explain the reasons behind my change in fortunes from the Ipswich game to the one against Newcastle. I had one shot on goal at Ipswich, but had more chances against Newcastle as a defender."
Indeed, Gary was a worthy man of the match against the Magpies as his goal levelled the scores at 1-1 and was the signal for us to stamp our authority on a match which was on the brink of slipping away.
"Getting the goal against Newcastle was brilliant," he adds. "It was my first for the club and in front of the White Hart Lane crowd as well. But, despite that, I think the goal at Orient was more important to me.
"It gave us our first away win of the season and sent us through to the next round of the FA Cup, so I was more pleased with that one."
Doherty’s recent surge into the limelight continues a trend which has followed his career so far. After starting out at Luton, he hit a high by signing for us and then making his debut a few weeks later at Old Trafford. A call-up to the full Ireland national team soon followed and it seemed Gary could do no wrong.
But his career then slipped back into a bit of a lull for the first part of this season and although he has been around the first team squad for most of the campaign, it wasn’t until just after Christmas that he exploded back on the scene again.
"Things seem to happen to me in bursts," he agrees. "It has been something of a roller-coaster ride so far and when I do come on the scene each time, things happen in a big way. There’s a great deal of interest in me again at the moment, but at least it means I am making an impression."
He certainly has been the talk of the town recently and among those heaping praise on the 20-year-old has been the Republic manager Mick McCarthy. Gary thoroughly enjoyed his brief time on the international arena and is anxious to repeat that soon, starting with Ireland’s friendly against Denmark next month.
"After the Newcastle game, Mick sent me a message wishing me well and to congratulate me and that was a big boost," says Gary. "We’ve got a game coming up and I’ll be delighted to just be in the squad. Once you start playing in the Premiership, you then want to push for your national side. If I can keep playing for Spurs, hopefully the international side of things should take care of themselves."
For now though, Doherty is concentrating on making the most of the opportunity which has come his way.
"Now that I’m in the side, I want to get a good run of games under my belt and then try to be a regular in the side. The manager hasn’t said anything to me about my best position, but if I can keep playing well as a defender, hopefully that will make his mind up for him."
By Jon Rayner