Shane Duffy feared he would never play in the Premier League again when he left Everton.

But he has fought his way back to the top from a sticky end with the Toffees and returns to the blue half of Merseyside with Albion above them in the table.

Saturday's trip to Goodison Park is a poignant one for Duffy.

Everton were his first club. The future with them looked bright for the Republic of Ireland centre-half until David Moyes departed to Manchester United.

Moyes' successor Roberto Martinez (below) fast-tracked John Stones and Duffy wondered if he would ever make it back to the top again as he dropped down the divisions.

The Argus: "Of course, yes you think that," he told The Argus. "But I always knew Everton was a top club in the Premier League. You have to be really good to break through there.

"If you look at my career, I went to Yeovil and Scunthorpe and Blackburn. So you are thinking it's probably never going to come.

"But you just keep working hard and if you get a platform to do it, like at this club (Albion), it's special for me and I am grateful to them."

Duffy has been a rock for Albion alongside Lewis Dunk since his £3.5 million move from Blackburn towards the start of last season.

He has only missed one match in the Premier League, against Watford in December due to a ban for five bookings.

Crunching the numbers reveals his determination and desire to defend.

Duffy is way out in front at the top of the Premier League clearances table on 244. Next in the list is Huddersfield's Christopher Schindler (208).

The majority of those clearances have been headers (185). The 6ft 3ins powerhouse is showing the rest a clean pair of leaping heels in that category too, with Burnley's Ben Mee closest on 128.

The pivotal role in Albion's success played by the central partnership is emphasised by the blocks table. Duffy is second on 42 - six behind Dunk.

He is also third in aerial battles won with 148, below Peter Crouch and Christian Benteke. Duffy is the only non-striker in the top six.

Although his exit from Everton was disappointing, he remains grateful for the way they nurtured him into the player he has become.

The Argus: Duffy made his debut under Moyes (above) in the Europa League when he was just 17.

A handful of Premier League appearances included a home debut against, ironically, Blackburn and a 2-0 win at Goodison against Chelsea.

"I owe the club a lot," Duffy said. "They gave me a pathway. It taught me to be a man and a footballer from 15.

"So many of the backroom staff and on the academy side taught me how to play football in a man's game.

"It was great. They gave me a platform to go out and perform. Luckily enough I played a few times for the first team.

"It's a great club and I'm looking forward to going back there. Obviously hopefully for a win."

Duffy was denied that pleasure against his old club when they met at the Amex in October. He had gone off injured (below) when Wayne Rooney robbed Albion of all three points with a late penalty.

The Argus: Despite the disappointment, it launched a five-match unbeaten sequence, the best of the season until the Seagulls emulated it by beating Arsenal at the Amex on Sunday to edge above Everton into tenth on goal difference.

They are wll on their way to safety on 34 points, but not safe yet. There has been no easing in the intensity from manager Chris Hughton after outgunning the Gunners.

Back-up goalkeeper Tim Krul revealed: "The boys were screaming for a couple of days off, but the gaffer said no, stay up first and then you can have a couple more days!

"We know it's not done yet. It's really tight at the bottom. We needed one of those big wins. Nobody really expected it, but I think the belief was really there for one of the first times, that we could beat one of the big-hitters.

"We have an amazing squad now. We've bought really well, not just good players but good characters. I think that's really important.

"We all believe in the same end product and that is staying in the League and pushing on from that. It's a great set-up here and there are exciting times ahead.

"It's exciting to go to Everton on Saturday and hopefully get a result there."

Nobody will be keener for that to happen than Duffy.