IT WAS 15 minutes of Conor McAleny’s young life which he never wanted to end. Christmas was still a fortnight away, but making that brief cameo for Everton FC against Arsenal in the Premier League last December was almost the perfect present he could have wanted.
Indeed the Huyton-born forward was inches away from the ultimate reward, when his superbly-struck long-range shot flew narrowly past Wojciech Szczesny’s post.
Behind the goal at the Emirates, Everton’s travelling fans were impressed.
Ten months later McAleny is quietly building on his reputation as one to watch, after recently signing a new two-year deal at Goodison Park.
He is yet to make further appearances for David Moyes’ senior side this season, but McAleny – who recently returned from injury – admits he is willing to bide his time.
“I know it takes time to progress,” says the quietly confident 20-year-old. “I want a run of games (for Alan Stubbs’ U21s) and to get fully fit – then I’ll see where I am after that.
“I think if I got on for the first team I'd have a good chance of scoring.”
McAleny could offer something different for Moyes. While the Blues boss has height, physicality and brawn in abundance among his striking options – think Nikica Jelavic, Victor Anichebe or Apostolos Vellios, there is perhaps room for a waspish player with plenty of intelligence and raw instinct like McAleny.
His recent goal for the U-21s against Bolton, when he was forced wide almost to the touchline by a defender only to bamboozle his marker, burst back into the area and curl a deft shot into the top corner, spoke of a gifted player with the potential to excite.
“I like to stay on the left shoulder and drop in but I’m comfortable doing any forward role – whatever feels natural,” he says. “I like playing as a number 10 or playing as an outright striker.”
With his low centre of gravity and speed of thought McAleny draws fouls which can help his side, and admits he has not been short of inspirational mentors during his time at Everton.
“When Saha was here he could do everything,” he says. “He could hold the ball up, run in behind, he was two-footed. I used to like watching him in training. I’d get absorbed watching how he did things. It was a bit weird replacing him when I made my second Premier League appearance against Norwich.
“He was so good and that’s him these days – he’d have been even better years ago in his prime.
“Then there’s Nikica Jelavic. He’s superb and another one I can learn from.
“He’s always there in the right place at the right time to score. I’m always learning.”