A mate of mine has a good method of picking the Player of the Year, which I’ll share in full:-
If you’ve had a good season – vote for your wonder striker
If you’ve had a mid-table season – vote for your battling midfielder
If you’ve had a bad season – vote for the centre half who tried hardest
If you’ve had a REALLY bad season – vote for the poor keeper who has done nowt but pick it out of the net…
It’s not a bad rule of thumb. I suppose that on this logic, if you’ve had a moderately good season, you could pick a winger, or someone who plays between the lines – but I’m not sure in what circumstances you pick a full back?
I think that Richard Keogh will win, mostly as a tribute from the fans for the way he has come back and proved his critics wrong. When two centre backs were signed last summer, it looked pretty much nailed on that Keogh would leave – instead, he saw off Alex Pearce, was re-established as captain by Darren Wassall and is now approaching cult hero status. He’s won nearly everybody over, despite the fact that those strange mistakes he makes from time to time will probably never entirely disappear from his game – and I’m sure that he will lift the Jack Stamps Trophy this time.
But that doesn’t answer the question of who I am going to vote for. so, I listed all the nominees and started to rule names out. First to go were any players who had made less than 30 starts. That left nine names – of whom, I then eliminated Thorne and Johnson, who had only made 30 starts out of a possible 44 at the time.
That left me with seven – Carson, Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Russell, Ince and Martin.
Carson has improved the first-team, no question. He is much more solid and dependable than Grant, whose alarming error-proneness was such a feature of last season and reared its head again when he was called upon this year. The scruffy Cumbrian is much more reliable and at the age of 30, could be Derby’s number one for years to come. He will collect his share of votes this season and hopefully become a Rams stalwart for the rest of the decade.
Christie would probably win ‘most improved player’, if that was a thing. Like Keogh, he had his share of bile to contend with last season, but has since proved his worth beyond question. I’m a fan and I think his marauding presence on the right has become one of the key features of our play – that said, three assists for the season is not a great return for a player who spends so much of his time in the opposition’s final third. At 22, he has so much scope to improve and I hope we see him develop even further in the coming seasons.
Shackell is not a name I’ve heard mentioned all that much when it comes to the POTY reckoning. I’m not sure why. He has played every league game (like Keogh), has only been booked three times and averages 1.2 blocks per match. The defensive shambles that was pre-Shackell Derby is a thing of the past – we just don’t concede goals like we were doing and I think that is largely down to Shackell. He is composed and competent – not the quickest, but it doesn’t seem to matter, does it? I think he has every right to be considered as a contender for POTY.
Ince has, by my reckoning, 12 goals and eight assists this season, from 36 starts and six sub appearances. That’s not a bad haul. But there’s such expectation around the kid that it won’t be seen as a really successful season by his standards (unless he bags the winner at Wembley, of course). When a player is capable of moments like the one he pulled out against Bristol City, you can’t stop yourself from feeling, subconsciously: ‘why can’t he do that every week?’ I certainly believe in his talent and think his best years are ahead of him.
I’ve never been as much of a fan of Russell as most. I’ve always had this suspicion, which was the same with Jamie Ward, that when it comes to a one-on-one situation, he won’t score. It happened against Sheffield Wednesday – he missed a sitter against Kieren Westwood, when he could have taken another touch and eliminated the goalkeeper, instead of poking it straight at him. But this moan aside, there’s no denying that he’s had a great second half to the season, installing himself as a first choice wide forward and claiming four goals and three assists in the last five games. Overall, he has featured in every league game but one, contributing nine goals plus 13 assists, by my reckoning.
Martin has never won the Jack Stamps Trophy, which is a crying shame. We spend years waiting for a 20 goal a season striker to come along, then we get one and don’t vote for him! I guess it’s because some people think he’s ‘mardy’.
Despite the strange lack of supporter recognition for our key man, I won’t be voting for Martin this season, simply because he hasn’t had the best of seasons by his own high standards.
(Assist stats taken from my personal records)
1. Thorne 7.31
2. Ince 7.25
3. Christie 7.20
4. Shackell 7.14
5. Martin 7.00
6. Johnson 6.99
7= Russell 6.98
7= Keogh 6.98
9. Butterfield 6.93
10. Hendrick 6.68
11. Carson 6.66
So, there are several very worthy contenders, which is a positive, but in the end, there can be only one.
My vote is going to Shackell. I think he’s our best defender, arguably our all-round best player and in my opinion, has had the most impact of any individual when it comes to improving our performances from last season.