One of the best parts of supporting football in England is the amazing entertainment offered up in the lower leagues that you simply don’t get abroad, this season has been no different and with yet another thrilling campaign drawing to a close the Football League has announced its nominees for the player of the year awards in each division. Here I will go through who I think the worthy recipients are.
Championship Player of the Year
Nominees: Andre Gray (Burnley), Alan Judge (Brentford), Ross McCormack (Fulham)
My winner: Andre Gray
At the start of the season, a lot of questions were asked about Burnley, with the squad barely changing from the one that took them to the Premier League in the 2014 and saw them relegated in 2015 people doubted whether the players would have it in them for another promotion push. Their season was then rocked before it even began with the sale of Danny Ings to Liverpool in the summer. Ings scored 21 Championship goals and an impressive 11 in a relatively uncreative Burnley side in the Premier League. Burnley filled the void with Andre Gray, the £6million signing from Brentford. He fitting in seamlessly and has almost single-handedly fired Burnley into the automatic promotion places. He has pace, power, and crucially intelligence, he knows exactly where he needs to be to score a goal. For me, he has all the attributes to shine in the Premier League and he gets my nod for this award because of the way he has fitted so effortlessly into a new side, a very difficult task and looked by far and away the best striker outside of the Premier League. He even has 21 goals this season, the same as Ings managed, with five more games to go.
League One Player of the Year
Nominees: Nicky Ajose (Swindon), Bradley Dack (Gillingham), Romaine Sawyers (Walsall)
My winner: Nicky Ajose
As a Peterborough fan, this decision pains me, every time I see him score I just think of what could have been. While The Posh have been stuck with goal-shy strikers after the departure of Conor Washington the man they let go has been banging them in for Swindon. In only 33 appearances he has scored 22 goals, a league high. However, this is not just me honouring the top scorer, he has managed to hold his form for the whole season. The same can not be said of Bradley Dack in particular who had his head turned in January by a move to Bristol City. Ajose has impressed in a Swindon side which was been struggling for most of the season, currently sitting in 16th place. The way he has taken sole responsibility for leading the club out of relegation trouble should not be forgotten, he has exactly double the number of goals as their next top scorer this season. Scoring goals in a struggling team is always more difficult than in a winning team as you have to do a lot more of the work yourself, Ajose with his pace and trickery has shown he is clearly capable of this and deserves the award.
League Two Player of the Year
Nominees: Ricky Holmes (Northampton), Kemar Roofe (Oxford), Matty Taylor (Bristol Rovers)
My Winner: Kemar Roofe
Kemar Roofe has been the driving force behind Oxford’s promotion challenge this season and their run to the JTP Final. While an honourable mention must go to the outrageous goal he scored away to Brentford in the Capital One Cup, a half volley from the half way line. Roofe has bamboozled League Two defenders all season with his trickery on the wing and his ability to deliver a pin-point cross. I got to see him first-hand at home to Accrington Stanley and he ran the game for the most part and he scored a beautiful goal when he flicked the ball effortlessly past the goalkeeper before he was left down by poor defending from Oxford that gifted Accrington a 2-1 victory. The whole season he has looked a class apart and with his creativity many have been asking why West Brom decided to let him go. This season he has weighed in with 17 goals and 8 assists mainly from the wide position. He has undoubtedly shown that he can play at a higher level and due to his performances he may just get that chance with Oxford.
Young Player of the year
Nominees: Lewis Cook (Leeds), Moussa Dembele (Fulham), Rico Henry (Walsall)
My winner: Lewis Cook
With any award there is the temptation to go with the striker, the one who makes the headlines with his goals, in this case, Moussa Dembele but football is about more than goals and goalscorers are useless without the midfield stoppers who are prepared to put their body on the line for the team to win back the ball. Lewis Cook is exactly kind of player, you won’t find him topping and goals or assists charts for Leeds but his impact has not gone unnoticed. He has done an incredible job to establish himself as a regular last season before continuing on and making more appearances this season (39 so far) at the age of just 19. Cook has shown a real ability to dominate games this season which has cemented his reputation as one of the best prospects outside of the Premier League. I would be very surprised if that did not change in the summer as Everton, Stoke and Bournemouth are all reported to be interested and even before joining Leeds’ youth set up Cook received offers from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United. Cook doesn’t regularly grab headlines but you only need to talk to Leeds fan to see how highly they rate his impact in games, as winning the battles in midfield is a crucial step to scoring goals Cook gets my vote for this award.