By Paula Marcus
The season may not be finished, but that doesn’t mean the reviews and dissections haven’t begun. Last week the Championship Professional Football Association (PFA) team of the year was announced, along with the three finalists for the player of the year award. This is the one voted for by the players themselves in January meaning that, whilst it probably means the most to the players, its relevance is usually argued by fans.
That aside, this year’s finalists will no doubt be fighting for most of the post season accolades given their high levels of consistency over the past few months. The first two nominees unsurprisingly come from the top two teams, Brighton and Hove Albion’s Anthony Knockaert and Dwight Gayle of Newcastle United. The final nominee is Leeds United striker Chris Wood. So who are they and what has made them special?
Brighton midfielder Knockaert has been in fine form this season helping push his side to the automatic promotion places. He is the league’s top scoring midfielder with an impressive 13 goals, and a further seven assists, meaning he has a hand in almost a third of his sides goals. When he joined the team in January 2016 from Leicester City, it was hoped his flair and attacking style would help lift the Seagulls to the top flight, and so far he is ticking all the boxes.
What’s even more impressive is that he missed a few weeks of the season due to his father’s death in November. Instead of unravelling his season, this tragedy seems to have inspired him. Some of his team mates flew to France to attend the funeral, and their support, combined with a want to win for his father, has really spurred him on.
Next up is the Dwight Gayle and his impressive 21 goals in 28 games. Gayle was one of Newcastle United’s shrewdest moves in the close season, signing form Crystal Palace for an impressive £10million. With an overall total of 85 goals in 178 games (including a three year spell in the Premier League) few would disagree with him being described as a natural finisher. His link up play with Jonjo Shelvey has been a key factor in Newcastle’s fine form this season and no doubt he will be back banging in the goals in the Top Flight next season.
Had Gayle not spent part of the season injured, it is likely he would be sitting top of the scoring charts. Instead, we have Leeds United’s Chris Wood as king of the goals, with his 24 goals so far making him the envy of most Championship teams. Wood’s form has been a key part of Leeds transformation from a struggling side, to one looking for promotion. Worryingly for Leeds final push to the playoffs, Wood was injured whilst on international duty for New Zealand. He received a knock in their game against Fiji on Saturday. As yet it is unclear if he will miss any game time, and fans are hoping it was just precautionary.
With goals generally bringing awards, most money would probably be on Wood coming out with the gong this time. Generally top scorer equals top prizes, and Wood has proven to be a natural finisher over the past few months. That said, this is probably one of the tightest contests of the last few years. For all of the goals Wood has scored, Gayle has a far better goal to game ratio due to missing a chunk of the season. Then there is Knockaert who has performed well despite spending three weeks at his father’s side.
Some have been arguing that Wood’s also deserves the honour as he is playing in a weaker side than the other two contenders. A quick look at the team of the year shows that half the players come from the top two sides (four from Brighton and two from Newcastle) suggesting that there is a bias there. Whilst Brighton have been great this year, it could be argued both Ali Al-Habsi (Reading) and Adam Davies (Barnsley) have been more effective stoppers than David Stockdale.
Taking all this together, I think Gayle will be crowned come the end of the season. To score almost a goal a game is unheard of in modern football, and with 68% of his shots on target, it’s not hard to see how he has managed to hit the net so many times. With eight games left, he could still claim that top spot.
Listen to Paula’s latest Championship podcast at Premier Punditry.