PHIL NEVILLE has urged Everton fans to go easy on Joleon Lescott when the former Blues defender returns to Goodison Park for the first time since his acrimonious move to Manchester City two seasons ago.
Circumstances have so far prevented the 28-year-old from lining-up in opposition colours against his former team-mates, but that looks set to change when City arrive in Merseyside on Saturday.
The England defender went from hero to villain with Toffees fans when he handed in a transfer request shortly before Everton’s 09/10 season began with a 6-1 thumping by Arsenal at Goodison.
His attitude was subsequently criticised by David Moyes, who had been determined to hang onto a defender he transformed into one of the best in the top flight after his 2006 capture from Wolves.
The uncertainty of Lescott’s eventual £22million departure caused Moyes’ pre-season plans to be damaged, and left a dark cloud hanging over Everton’s early season form.
But Lescott was a popular member of the Blues dressing room who is still well-liked by many of the current first team, and Neville hopes the home crowd focus their vocal efforts solely on cheering the Toffees on Saturday.
He said: “I want the Everton fans to go easy on Joleon. He played for the club in a magical era and helped us to an FA Cup Final. He left in bad circumstances, but he is a good defender.”
It is a sentiment previously repeated by Leighton Baines, a man who replaced Lescott’s role as a productive attacking full-back for the Blues, and also felt his former team-mate received some undue criticism two summers ago.
Asked about the dismal start to that campaign, when the Lescott saga dominated head-lines, Baines told the ECHO last summer: “The stuff with Joleon was rumbling on at the time and he shouldered some of the blame, which took some of it off us.
“But for me he wasn’t at fault for a single goal. It was easy for people to point the finger at him.
“To be fair to Joleon, even though he was in the process of leaving the club, he was actually happy to take it for the team. It tells you a bit about him.
“He half-blamed himself publicly even though privately he’d done nothing wrong.
“He was willing to soak that up and take it on the chin for us and shows what he felt for us.”
Lescott kept quiet about the controversy surrounding his move until breaking his silence to a national newspaper last year.
“I loved it at Everton, had so many friends there,” he said. “I didn’t expect people to be happy about me leaving but it could have been handled so much better.
“I know the chairman loves the club with all his heart but it was good business for them.
“That said, I still had to be the one who made it happen when it came to the crunch.
“I felt Manchester City was too good an opportunity to pass up but I think they were waiting for me to show I was serious about going there. I had to show some intent and only then, I think, were they prepared to pay the money.”
After an uncertain start at Eastlands, Lescott has established himself in Roberto Mancini’s side this season although he has missed all three of City’s recent defeats by the Blues.
Moyes has since gone on record to say he is over his initial anger at how City and Lescott handled the transfer, and now his skipper will hope the supporters can take an equally reflective stance at 3pm on Saturday.