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The Football League Blog End of Season Awards

After 1,644 games, played over eight months the Football League season is very nearly over, and to celebrate this incredible season it’s time for the most prestigious awards in football – the Football League Blog End of Season Awards!

So sit back, relax, have a drink if you like and get ready to disagree vehemently with most of the verdicts (and possibly agree with a tiny minority of the picks).

 football league

League 2 Player of the Year

Winner– Tom Pope (Port Vale) – The league’s top scorer has been sensational all season and to score 31 goals in any league is a magnificent achievement. He has been the driving force behind Port Vale’s promotion, and Pope has on many occasions been the difference between victory and defeat. With his large frame, commanding aerial presence and clinical finishing he is destined to shine in League 1 next season.

Honourable mentions: Adam Barrett (Gillingham), Marlon Pack (Cheltenham), Gary Jones (Bradford)

League 1 Player of the Year

Winner– David Cotterill (Doncaster) – The Welshman has struggled to settle in recent years at various clubs, and has been troubled by a serious loss of confidence. But at the Keepmoat he has managed to remind the football world of his outstanding natural talent. He was made the lynchpin of the team by Dean Saunders and through a series of wonder strikes he has become his club’s top scorer. The midfielder showed he is too good for League 1 and with the belief of a good manager he can flourish in the Championship.

Honourable mentions: Paddy Madden (Yeovil), Alan Judge (Notts County), Harry Maguire (Sheffield United)

Championship Player of the Year

Winner – Mark Hudson (Cardiff) – It’s rare for a defender to get any kind of recognition but Hudson has been by far and away the best defender in the Championship this season, and his consistency and leadership justify his award. The big centre-back is an intelligent reader of the game, a physical presence but also a headstrong authority in the Cardiff back four. Their rock-solid defence was the main reason Cardiff ran away with the league and Hudson, as the leader of the defence deserves recognition as the Championship’s Player of the Year.

Honourable mentions: Matej Vydra (Watford), Glenn Murray (Crystal Palace), Yannick Bolasie (Crystal Palace)

Young Player of the Year

Winner – Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – The big comparison this season has been between Wilfried Zaha and Blackpool’s Tom Ince. Zaha edges the competition, despite arguably being a less complete player than Ince. Zaha can at times be frustrating, at times underwhelming and at times bemusing. But this season he has shown his class on a far more regular basis. He has pace, exquisite control and by now a deadly end product. He is flair personified and he will only get better at Man Utd. Ince is a more rounded player, but he doesn’t have Zaha’s range and capacity for the incredible. Therefore the winner is Wilfried Zaha.

Honourable mentions: Tom Ince (Blackpool), Anthony Knockaert (Leicester), Harry Maguire (Sheffield United)

Goal of the Season:

Winner: Nathaniel Chalobah (Watford) vs Leicester

It’s so difficult choosing a goal of the season from three leagues, but Chalobah’s thunderous wonder goal against Leicester last week triumphs over Anthony Knockaert’s (Leicester) audacious mid-air back-heel against Huddersfield and Simon Cox’s (Nottingham Forest) cultured control and finish against Birmingham.

League 2 Manager of the Year

Winner – Martin Allen (Gillingham) – Mad Dog has had an unstable few years, moving from club to club, but he seems to have found his feet at Gillingham and this season won the first promotion of his managerial career. He has galvanised his ambitious team and led them to a deserved League 2 title. They have been the best side in the fourth tier this season and after a sublime start to their campaign never looked like slipping up. Allen’s determination and passion was personified by his team as they showed class and confidence on their way to success.

Honourable mentions: Mickey Adams (Port Vale), Phil Parkinson (Bradford), John Ward (Bristol Rovers)

League 1 Manager of the Year

Winner – Eddie Howe (Bournemouth) – Who else could it be? He returned to his old club in October with the Cherries battling relegation. He transformed the seaside club into a team of aesthetically pleasing winners, heading on a relentless run of results which saw them shoot up the table. Howe managed to get the best out of his team and the addition of Matt Ritchie was a shrewd bit of business. Bournemouth were unlucky not to win League 1, but that won’t matter one bit. Howe has completed the job he started five years ago and taken Bournemouth to the second tier for only the second time in their history. He may be one of the youngest managers in the division but he is also one of the brightest.

Honourable Mentions: Uwe Rösler (Brentford), Gary Johnson (Yeovil), Dean Smith (Walsall)

Championship Manager of the Year

Winner – Malky Mackay (Cardiff) – In a league where inconsistency has been the recurring motif the Cardiff boss has cultivated an efficient and focused squad, whose reliability has seen them take the Championship title with ease. He has created a winning mentality among his players and a steely stubbornness which will be essential if they are to stay up next season in the Premier League. After years of last ditch failure and disappointments Mackay has found the magic formula which has finally seen Cardiff achieve their long-held goal of promotion to the big time. It’s not always been pretty but it has certainly been successful.

Honourable mentions: Gianfranco Zola (Watford), Dougie Freedman (Bolton), Steve Bruce (Hull)

Shock of the Year

Winners – Yeovil – The little Somerset club have come from nowhere to qualify for the League 1 play-offs. Gary Johnson is back where he feels most comfortable after a few years away from Huish Park and he has got the Glovers punching above their weight in a seriously competitive division. Not even the most positive Yeovil fan could have predicted a fourth place finish but Johnson has led the club to their highest ever league finish. This has been helped massively by the goals of Paddy Madden, with the Irishman proving to be one of the bargains of the season in the Football League. With Brentford emotionally drained after missing out on promotion, Sheffield United not looking convincing this season and Swindon still looking slightly unsure under Kevin MacDonald, who’s to say Yeovil can’t cause an even bigger shock and win promotion?

Honourable mentions: Crystal Palace, Walsall, Port Vale

Biggest Loser of the Year

Winner: Wolves – While unsavoury the violent scenes at the end of Wolves’s home defeat to Burnley were an accurate representation of their fans’ anger. The club retained most of the squad relegated from the Premier League last May, but those players have not shown the necessary fight in the Championship. The Wolves have lacked teeth in the second tier and despite ambitions of an instant return to the Premier League they are now staring League 1 square in the face. The appointments of Ståle Solbakken and Dean Saunders were both poor, with neither manager’s track record getting adequately scrutinised prior to their arrivals at Molineux. Now the lacklustre Wolves look set to become the first team ever to suffer consecutive relegations from the top tier to the third tier twice in their history.

Honourable mentions: Blackburn, Plymouth, Aldershot

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Wolves players need to take responsibility for their predicament

There’s no avoiding it, and it has to be discussed; Wolves are in trouble, and Dean Saunders needs to turn things around quickly if they are to stay up this season.

Wolves fans suffered a nightmare season last year as they were relegated from the Premier League with a measly 25 points. But having retained most of their players, and acquired a new, highly commended, intelligent manager in Ståle Solbakken, they were confident of pushing for an instant return to the top flight.

Saunders needs sort things out quickly.

But after a solid start to the season, Wolves have steadily dropped down the league, and after an embarrassing FA Cup defeat away at Blue Square Premier side Luton, Solbakken was shown the door. This was undoubtedly the correct decision as Solbakken clearly wasn’t inspiring the players, and the players found it difficult to adapt to his continental style of play.

Dean Saunders was appointed after a great first half of the season at League 1 Doncaster, but a quick look at Saunders’s CV may have suggested he was not the man for the job.

Saunders was given his first managerial post at Wrexham in 2008 after working as a coach for several years in John Toshack’s Wales set-up. Saunders struggled at first to find a rhythm at Wrexham and there were serious questions asked about his managerial ability. But he slowly turned things around at Wrexham and built a formidable, attacking machine, which looked set to challenge seriously for the Championship, until he was snapped up by Doncaster in September 2011.

He took over a Doncaster team which looked doomed to relegation, but Saunders was well backed with high-profile loan and short-term signings. But even the likes of El-Hadji Diouf couldn’t save Doncaster, and they were relegated at the end of the season, with Saunders’ managerial ability questioned once again.

Saunders revamped the Doncaster squad and got them competing seriously for promotion back to the Championship, this season, before he was snapped up by Wolves, with the aim of resurrecting their fading play-off hopes. Instead, he has not won any of his first six games and their latest defeat against in-form Barnsley has seen them fall into the bottom three.

Saunders is a long-term option for a club who desperately need a short-term solution. The question is, can Saunders change things quickly enough to keep Wolves up?

Wolves’s squad isn’t the most exciting, but there are good players in there who are underperforming badly. The likes of Roger Johnson, Kevin Doyle, Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Adam Hammill are proven players at Championship level, but they’re simply not contributing enough, and haven’t done so for a while.

The team still haven’t recovered from the loss of confidence last season, and in hindsight, the board probably missed a golden opportunity to revamp the squad in the summer. At the time, keeping the majority of the squad together looked to be a big achievement for the board, but after such a poor season it would probably have been better to get rid of some of their biggest underperformers.

Some football pundits have said sacking Mick McCarthy was Wolves’s biggest error, but they have conveniently forgotten the team’s abysmal form at the time of his departure.

McCarthy had enjoyed some wonderful times at Wolves, guiding them to promotion and keeping the Black Country club in the Premier League for three seasons. But the time had come for McCarthy to leave. Wolves were playing poorly, with deteriorating confidence, and their performance in the embarrassing 5-1 home defeat to local rivals, West Brom, was possibly among the worst ever seen in the Premier League.

Those who claim the Wolves board was wrong to get rid of McCarthy are looking through rose-tinted glasses, and conveniently forgetting the state of the team when he left. McCarthy will always be loved at Molineux, but keeping McCarthy certainly wouldn’t have kept them up, and they probably would have reacted similarly to relegation under the former Irish international.

Wolves have 13 games left to save themselves from returning to the third tier for the first time since 1989, starting with Sunday’s clash with table-toppers, Cardiff.

They desperately need to get their house in order, and halt what has become a deeply distressing malaise.

Now isn’t the time for players to feel sorry for themselves, and Dean Saunders has to step up to the mark to prove he is capable of being a Championship manager.

With matches against fellow relegation candidates, Birmingham, Millwall, Bristol City, Huddersfield and Bolton, there’s no reason why Wolves can’t drag themselves out of their current predicament. But for this to happen the players need to stop the pouting and take responsibility for their terrible performances.

Dave Jones: Should he stay or should he go?

Sheffield Wednesday are second from bottom in the Championship, they’ve lost their last seven games and on Saturday they lost to fellow relegation-batters Bristol City.

Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones is under severe pressure. (Picture courtesy of talksport.com)

Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones is under severe pressure. (Picture courtesy of talksport.com)

Manager, Dave Jones, is under severe pressure, with fans questioning both his ability to inspire his team and his tactical nous. Jones led the Owls to automatic promotion from League 1 last season, and has years of experience in the Championship with Wolves and Cardiff, but is he the man to lead Wednesday to safety?

Great expectations

Jones was appointed in March with Wednesday 3rd in the League 1 table and fresh from a morale-boosting victory against Steel City rivals Sheffield United. He led the team to promotion, leapfrogging United in the process, and Wednesday looked set for a fresh start in the Championship.

In August everything looked rosy for the Owls; they were unbeaten in the opening month of the season, winning two and drawing one. Few people were tipping Wednesday for the drop, and nobody could have predicted the abysmal run of results which would follow.

Wednesday had substantially boosted their squad in the summer, acquiring the services of full-back Joe Mattock, experienced centre-back Anthony Gardner and striker Jay Bothroyd, who excelled under Jones at Cardiff. They also bought Michail Antonio, who shined on loan from Reading the previous season, and borrowed highly-rated youngster Ross Barkley from Everton.

There were also exotic-sounding  transfers, such as Slovenian international Nejc Pecnik and the loan of Rodri from Barcelona B.

It seemed Sheffield Wednesday were all set for an enjoyable season back in the second tier of English football, but things turned sour very quickly.

After their unbeaten August Wednesday went on a miserable nine match winless run. They then won two games in a row against relegation rivals Ipswich and Peterborough and the Hillsborough club seemed ready to turn their season around.

Alas they’ve lost all their games since beating Peterborough 2-1 on November 3, and have slowly slipped down the table.

The defeat at home to Bristol City will hurt for a number of reasons.

Two of City’s goals were penalties, cheaply conceded through nervous defending by players who had just netted for Wednesday. Another painful aspect of this defeat is that Wednesday looked to be in control of the game, leading 2-1 with five minutes remaining, only for a Baldock penalty and a superb Adomah free-kick to steal the points at the death.

Wednesday’s misery was compounded when a late Wednesday goal was disallowed because defender Miguel Llera had grabbed the referee to complain about a decision he’d made, forcing the ref to halt play just before Gary Madine scored.

Of course this latest loss is especially painful because it was against a Bristol City team, below them at the start of play, who had themselves been on a poor run of form. The Robins, who revealed in midweek the appalling financial state of the club (record losses of £14.4m for the year ending May 2012), are now three points ahead of the Owls and outside the relegation zone.

Saturday’s soul-crushing defeat is the low-point in a disappointing season for Wednesday, and it’s piled the pressure on Dave Jones.

Jones unable to deal with pressure

Jones is probably one of the most mysterious characters in the Football League. He’s an extremely proud man, and somebody who resents criticism or questioning. This has damaged his relationship with the press, and to a lesser extent, with fans in recent years.

He can appear dour, negative and stubborn, and this is a defence mechanism that rarely works in his favour when under pressure. His stubbornness has been misread as arrogance in the past when in fact it’s usually a sign of insecurity.

Jones’s record suggests he’s a manager who struggles under pressure. He led Wolves to promotion via the play-offs when they were second favourites against a Sheffield United team which had reached the semi-finals of both the FA and League Cup that season. However in the Premier League Wolves struggled to adapt and finished bottom.

At Cardiff he reached the 2008 FA Cup final against the odds, but consistently failed to get promoted despite buying many high-profile players. Year after year the Bluebirds would get into promising positions, only to crumble spectacularly under pressure when expectations were raised.

At Sheffield Wednesday he took over a team which was not expected to finish in the top two, but had more or less secured a play-off spot. With expectations and pressure low he managed to rally his team and they overtook Sheffield United to finish 3rd.

Now though, with Wednesday struggling in the bottom three, Jones is once again under immense pressure, and supporters have been critical of his decision-making.

Last week Mark Beevers was allowed to sign for Millwall, where he’s been outstanding in defence while on loan from Wednesday.  He was sold despite the fact Wednesday are shipping goals at an alarming rate and haven’t kept a clean sheet since October.

Following Saturday’s game Jones was asked if he feared for his job and he said: “I didn’t give two penalties away at the end of the day,” adding: “It’s hard for us coaches because we’re under pressure as well.”

When asked if he expected to be in charge for next week’s crunch Yorkshire derby against Barnsley, Jones simply said: “I hope so. I hope so.”

Should he stay or should he go?

Confidence is in short supply at Wednesday and the players look dejected. There are some good footballers at the club but nobody knows when the losing run will end.

The few fans who still believed in Dave Jones are slowly turning against him as the situation gets bleaker. Sadly, Dave Jones’s jittery, overly-defensive interview answers suggest his confidence levels are about as low as those of the players.

The board has to decide whether or not they believe Dave Jones can inspire the players to turn things around. Unfortunately for the manager I suspect they’ll see what we all see; Jones isn’t the man to lead Wednesday to safety.

How did Millwall get there?

Millwall are one of the shocks of the seasons so far; Kenny Jackett’s unfashionable team travel to Wolves tonight sitting  6th in the Championship and top of the form table, but the question is can they sustain their current form?

The Lions are roaring this season and causing the odd shock.

Millwall were as usual one of the pre-season favourites for the drop despite finishing a very respectable 16th in the Championship last season. The club looked to be set for another season in the bottom half of the table when they lost five of their first seven league games.

However Millwall are unbeaten since their home loss against Brighton and Hove Albion on September 22 and they’ve won five of their last six games. Millwall’s current 11-match unbeaten run is the longest they’ve gone without defeat since gaining promotion in 2010.

The Lions’s turnaround is largely down to shrewd business by Jackett in the loan market.

First Mark Beevers was borrowed from Sheffield Wednesday. The 22-year-old was frustrated with life on the bench at Hillsborough so he went on loan to the Lions and has formed a watertight central-defensive partnership with veteran vice-captain, Danny Shittu.

Prior to Beevers’s arrival the Lions had failed to keep a clean sheet in the league but Millwall have now only conceded two goals in their last six games. Beevers has added composure and confidence to the Millwall back 4 and he compliments Shittu brilliantly.

On November 1 Adam Smith was loaned to Millwall from Spurs in order for him to get more first team experience. Smith has shown himself to be a very capable right-back; defensively solid and an effective attacker.

Arguably the key addition was New Zealand international Chris Wood, who has scored seven goals in his last seven games. The on-loan Wes Brom striker has added potency to a Millwall’s functionality, with his height causing defences a lot of problems.

Kenny Jackett has shown foresight and planning in choosing young players who are hungry and eager to impress. But with all three scheduled to return to their parent clubs in the new year can Millwall sustain their promotion push beyond January?

Where can Millwall finish this season?

It will of course depend on whether they are able to keep hold of any of them, and if they are unable to keep hold of them, will they be able to replace them?

Millwall haven’t got the resources to compete financially with the league’s big spenders so it’s vitally important Jackett keeps making the best possible use of the loan market. This means selective borrowing and choosing players that will add an extra dimension to the team.

Millwall have a functional team, full of hard-working, determined players. In Kenny Jackett they have a calm, composed and competent manager, who understands the league and knows how to get the best out of his squad.

Millwall’s football isn’t pretty but it’s certainly effective and no team will look forward to travelling to the Den this season (although when has a team ever looked forward to playing at the Den?).

Over the course of a season it’ll be difficult for Millwall to maintain their promotion push.

The squad is still very small and with Wood, Beevers and Smith all leaving the Den for the second half of the season, will Millwall get the clean sheets or goals to keep up the push for a top 6 place.

What Millwall need to do now is take advantage of their current run of form to make the club more appealing for prospective signings. Millwall has always been a very unfashionable club for many reasons, but if they enter January riding high in the league perhaps they’ll be able to attract a higher calibre of player.

Where Millwall will finish this season depends a great deal on the business the club conducts in January. And who knows, with the right signings, Millwall may be able to compete for one of those prized play-off spots?

L’influence francophone

Aujourd’hui c’est la journée européenne des blogs multilingues. Donc pour commémorer cette journée unique j’ai décidé d’analyser l’impact des francophones sur le Championship (Div 2 anglais) cette saison. Essayez d’ignorer les fautes grammatiques s’il vous plait ; je n’écris pas en français depuis presque 6 moins.

Le Championship est un ligue multiculturel et cette saison plusieurs francophones font un grand impacte, particulièrement les jeunes francophones qui introduisent un élément de classe au ligue qui est rarement associé avec du football superbe.

 

Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace

Probablement la star des premiers moins de la saison, l’attaquant qui était née en Côte d’ Ivoire, prépare maintenant pour son premier match pour l’équipe national anglais. Le sélectionneur anglais, Roy Hodgson,  lui choisit pour encourager Zaha de commettre à l’Angleterre. Avant cette semaine le joueur de Crystal Palace annonçait qu’il désirait de représenter son pays natal, mais l’intérêt anglais a peut-être changer son avis.

Zaha quittait l’Afrique en 1999 mais il parle un peu de français.

Il a des techniques excellent et comme un des attaquants les plus vites en Angleterre il pose plusieurs problèmes aux défenseurs. Zaha a marqué 4 buts mais il a contribué plusieurs passes décisifs pour ses coéquipiers. De temps en temps il fait rager ses supporters et ses entraineurs parce qu’il peut être égoïste. Mais c’est évident que Zaha possède le talent nécessaire pour réussir dans le Premier League.

 

Anthony Knockaert – Leicester

Si Zaha est la star de la saison jusqu’à maintenant, Anthony Knockaert, 20 ans, est le grand surprise. Le jeune milieu français a rejoint Leicester de Guingamp en juillet. Il a déjà marqué un des buts de la saison contre Huddersfield et il semble très confortable dans la ligue anglaise. Knockaert était inconnu en Angleterre avant l’été dernier mais maintenant il est célèbre et quelques grands équipes comme Arsenal et Newcastle suivent son progrès.

Stylistiquement il est génial et Knockaert a donné un aspecte plus créatif aux attaques des Renards. Il m’excite beaucoup et pendant les 12 moins il jouera sans doute dans le Premier League.

 

Gaël Givet – Blackburn

Le français le plus connu dans le Championship est l’ancien défenseur de Monaco, Gaël Givet, 31 ans. L’arrière gauche joue pour Blackburn depuis 2009 et il reste un des joueurs les plus réguliers des Rovers. Dans le Premier League il montrait sa qualité supérieure dans une équipe agité. Dans le Championship son expérience est très importante parce que Blackburn a un des équipes les plus jeunes dans la ligue.

 

El-Hadji Diouf – Leeds United

Le milieu offensif sénégalais reste un des joueurs les plus controversé dans l’histoire du foot anglais. Célèbre pour cracher, pour commettre des fautes et pour énerver tout le monde. Diouf est détesté autour d’Angleterre et avant rejoindre Leeds en juillet, l’entraineur de Leeds, Neil Warnock lui appelé un rat.

Mais il est un joueur très efficace qui a une bonne technique et la capacité de marquer des buts. Cette saison il est le joueur le plus important pour Leeds, et le seul raison pourquoi ils ne sont pas menacés par la relégation. Leeds est tristement célèbre pour la violence sur le terrain et dans les tribunes, donc Diouf est parfait pour le club.

 

Bakary Sako – Wolves

La saison jusqu’à maintenant est difficile pour Wolves, qui n’a pas adapté après relégation du Premier League. Mais un des aspects positifs de la saison pour Wolves est leur nouvel attaquant, Bakary Sako. Le Parisien a marqué cinq buts pour Wolves et il est leur meilleur joueur. Il est rapide est fort, et il est naturellement commode pour le foot anglais.

Sako, qui a rejoindre Wolves l’été dernier de Saint-Etienne, est un attaquant qui peut réussir en Angleterre mais peut-être il faut qu’il quitte Wolves pour le faire.

 

Nadjim Abdou – Millwall

Il n’est pas bien-connu en France, mais Nadjim Abdou est un héros pour des supporters de Millwall. Le milieu combative a passé quatre saisons avec les londoniens. Il est un des joueurs les plus réguliers à Millwall et son détermination fait lui un des joueurs favorites des supporters. Il n’est pas un joueur spectaculaire, mais il travaille pour ses coéquipiers et il protège les défenseurs.

 

Gui Moussi et Adlène Guedioura – Nottingham Forest

Gui Moussi est un milieu français énorme et Guedioura est un milieu offensive algérien, qui était née en France. Ils ont des styles très différents mais ils sont très efficaces. Moussi est un géant défensif très fort qui protège la défense et organise le milieu. Mais il aime attaquer aussi et quand il attaque il rassemble à Yaya Toure.  À Forest il est surnommé l’orignal.

Guedioura est beaucoup plus offensive. Il est rapide et difficile à contrôler. Il est aussi capable de marquer des buts extraordinaires. De temps en temps il semble paresseux mais il est très utile. Il a représenté l’Algérie seize fois.

 

Yann Kermorgant – Charlton

Il y a deux ans Yann Kermorgant était regardé comme un échec en Angleterre. Le milieu a passé une saison peu remarquable à Leicester, et dans les éliminatoires de 2010 il a échoué une pénalité décisive et à cause de son pénalité Leicester était éliminé.

Mais depuis son transfert à Charlton le milieu a réinventé son image. Il était intégral dans la promotion de Charlton de League 1 (Div 3 anglais) la saison dernière. Maintenant il a beaucoup plus de confiance et il joue bien pour les londoniens.

 

Yannick Bolasie

Bolasie est un coéquipier de Wilfried Zaha à Crystal Palace. L’ailier lyonnais n’a jamais joué professionnellement en France, et c’est en Angleterre que ses talents sont appréciés. Avant rejoindre Palace en aout il jouait pour Plymouth et Bristol City. Bolasie est très rapide et il menace des défenseurs. Ses centrales ont contribués à beaucoup de buts cette saison, et il est un des grands raisons pourquoi Palace sont maintenant en premier dans le Championship. Il est un joueur qui a gravi les échelons et il espère de jouer dans le Premier League la saison prochaine.