In Ireland's final World Cup qualification match yesterday in Dublin, Everton's growing optimism was struck a huge blow. In the 34th minute of Ireland's 3-1 victory, Darron Gibson put in a fairly innocuous challenge, and immediately collapsed in a heap. (video of the tackle here - go to 1:02) GIbson was stretchered off, in obvious discomfort, and flown back to England to be examined by Everton's medical staff. A scan of the injured knee revealed damage to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), but no damage to any other part of the knee.
Initially, the time frame for Gibson's return was unclear, though certainly not optimistic. Now, several media outlets have been reporting that Gibson will miss "months", and the most recent report from The Guardian suggests the injury could have Gibson out from six to nine months. Gibson's injury comes in only his second game back for the Irish national team since Euro 2012, in which Giovanni Trapattoni failed to give Gibson a single minute in what was a dreadful performance by his squad.
Where will this leave the Toffees? First and foremost, Evertonians will be singing the praises of Robert Elstone, Bill Kenwright, and Roberto Martinez for bringing in Gareth Barry and James McCarthy at the death of the transfer window. Without the addition of both of these players, particularly Barry who has been one Everton's best players in his limited playing time, the boys in blue would be in serious trouble. These two, plus Leon Osman, will compose the central midfield corps likely for the rest of the season. Given that these three players have already played the majority of the minutes at the center of the pitch this season, this is certainly not a terrible situation. However, after seeing the strong play of Barry this season, and watching Gibson control the midfield for the second half of last year's campaign, Everton supporters will be left to wonder what could have been of the pairing of Gibson and Barry at the center of the park.
For many Everton supporters, perhaps we now find ourselves asking, "What in the world are we to do with Darron Gibson?" He has the ability to control matches, is a solid passer, works hard, and helps out defensively: just about all that can be asked of a player at his position. But we can no longer pretend that Gibson is not injury prone; perhaps Manchester United knew this and was willing to let him go so cheaply because of it. Regardless, all that we can hope for now is the continued solid play of Gareth Barry, James McCarthy reaching his full potential, and Leon Osman rediscovering a little bit of the magic he had last season, all the while hoping for a speedy and successful recovery for the 25 year old Gibson, who still hopefully has a lot of football in front of him. Get well soon Gibbo.
UPDATE: Roberto Martinez confirms Gibson has ruptured his ACL, and is still "hopeful the player [will] be able to return before the end of the season." This sounds more like wishful thinking than anything based in fact, but only time will tell.