Michael Keane is vowing to continue “putting my head where it hurts” to help Everton’s bid to climb the Premier League table.
Keane’s robust form this season has seen him barge his way to the front of a long queue – alongside France international Kurt Zouma – for the Blues’ centre-back spots.
Everton will be seeking a third consecutive Goodison Park clean sheet when Brighton & Hove Albion visit on Saturday, while victory over Albion would represent a fourth in five league matches for Marco Silva’s team.
Keane has won 44 aerial duels this season – the fourth most among top-flight defenders despite missing two games after sustaining a hairline fracture of his skull playing against Bournemouth in August.
His 29 headed clearances ranks 13th in the division. But the polished nature of Keane’s work is perhaps best reflected in the statistic which shows he has given away only two free-kicks – no defender in the Premier League with more than 500 minutes’ action under his belt this term has conceded fewer.
“Our defensive work in training is focused on getting your timing right,” Keane told evertontv.
“It is hard to replicate exact match situations for a defender, you might come up against more physical opposition or encounter different scenarios in games, but as long as you have worked on timing your headers and practised heading the ball, you are okay.
“It is down to bravery and wanting to put your head where it hurts sometimes.
“As a defensive unit we have been doing that very well lately and tightened up from set plays, too, which is important.
“We work on every potential defensive partnership in training but it is going really well with Kurt and I am enjoying playing with him.”
Keane was talking at the Club’s Blue Base after planting one of 11 trees which will create a living legacy to the 11 Everton footballers who served and died during World War One.
The centre-half met forces veterans at the facility close to Goodison Park and was honoured to be asked to participate in the ceremony.
“The veterans were telling us a few stories and it is very humbling to be here – and nice to come and pay our respects,” said Keane, who was joined at the Blue Base by fellow Everton defender Jonjoe Kenny.
"It is a tight-knit community and to be one of those who can come and make people happy, and perhaps help them enjoy their day even more, gives you a boost."
Keane has seen defensive colleague Zouma summoned by the French squad after a 14-month absence following an accomplished start to his Everton career.
The Englishman won the most recent of his four international caps in October last year and is keeping his fingers crossed for a recall when manager Gareth Southgate names a squad for two November matches next week.
His focus for now, though, is on ensuring Everton hurdle Chris Hughton’s obdurate Brighton, who will travel north in gleeful mood after winning three games on the spin – all 1-0.
Silva’s side beat Fulham and Crystal Palace on their past two home outings but had their own three-match winning streak checked by Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.
“Brighton will be very tough to break down, we will have to work on achieving that in training and know what we are coming up against," said Keane.
"We have players who can do all sorts, we can put crosses in the box and play intricate football.
"It is vital to keep them out at the other end, as well. They have a lot of good players going forward. It won’t be a case of us attacking for 90 per cent of the game and not having much to do defensively.
“They are a good team and have some top players who can cause problems. We need to be aware of that and will not take anything for granted."
England face USA and Croatia in November, with the international break following immediately after Everton's trip to Chelsea next Sunday.
“I always look out for the England squad," added Keane. "I want to be back involved and have missed not going. It was an honour to play for England and be capped four times and I want more.
“I have not been picked this season but I feel I have been playing well, so I should be in with a chance – we will have to wait and see.”