For football clubs throughout the land, it has come to that time of year for fans to weigh up the pros and cons of each player of their chosen team and go through individual performances with a fine-tooth comb in order to choose their Player of the Year. Usually, there are stand-out players who shine above the rest, with their seasonal goal tallies, assists or clean sheet totals providing all the evidence needed to support their claim for the prestigious title. Occasionally, there is the abnormality with these votes. This year, after a torrid season, Aston Villa gave up on the award altogether, with fan-player relationships reportedly at an all time low. Similarly, in Derby County’s most recent foray into the big time, the season was such a disaster that the Rams’ fans were awarded the Jack Stamps’ Trophy for the season, largely due to continued dedication despite an awful few months on the pitch. There are also seasons where – for varying different reasons – no single player stands out head and shoulders above the rest. This season for Derby County has been one of those.
For the second year running, Derby were favourites to win the Championship title and set about with attempting to achieve that aim during the summer, recruiting Paul Clement to fill the empty managerial post following Steve McClaren’s sacking and the subsequent spending of £20 million in the summer transfer window. However, also for the second year running, the wheels fell off the title push during the second half of the season and the Rams have now got to settle for a play-off place, which is all but guaranteed at the time of writing, for the second time in three seasons. Derby have just about rescued the campaign from the downfall into oblivion that occurred this time last year, but it has still been a less than sensational season for the most part, leaving Player of the Season candidates somewhat thin on the ground, with few diamonds to be found amongst the rough. There have been few disastrous years for players, certainly some new signings seem to have had their Rams’ careers ended before they really began – Alex Pearce and Chris Baird being two unfortunates – but there hasn’t really been anybody who has been a disaster every time he has stepped onto the pitch. Similarly, there have been few members of the squad that have consistently been at their best throughout the season, with many only hitting patches of good form here and there or having their season disrupted through injuries – Craig Bryson being a prime example of that. The Scot got injured during the first half of the opening game of the season away at Bolton Wanderers and didn’t really fully recover until late January. Ever since then, he has been instrumental in many of his performances, but given he missed half of the season, it would seem a tad harsh on others to give him the award.
There seems to be a general consensus amongst Derby fans that there are three players that stand out above the rest, with two of those seemingly going head to head for the award. Richard Keogh; who has won the award before but suffered a horrendous end to last season leading to many on social media questioning his role at the club, fellow Irish international Cyrus Christie; whose fortunes last season were very similar to Keogh’s above, and newcomer goalkeeper Scott Carson. Interestingly, all three options are players in the defensive department which was so heavily criticised towards the end of last season. Indeed, two of those players being blamed by some on social media for the defensive collapse that occurred this time last year.
Each player has improved the defence no end, with £3 million signing Jason Shackell also helping to shore up the back-line and add some steel to a defence that was as solid as the team-sheet it was written on. However, the boys at the back seem to have recovered and become arguably the most solid department within the team, being the only area on the pitch to remain consistent throughout the season. A lot of these plaudits must go to Shackell for his influence – his Premier League experience is clear – but this is the reason that many argue Scott Carson should receive the Jack Stamp’s trophy for 2015/16. His calmness and professionalism seems to have added stability to a defence that was shaky at best the year before, something which has been obvious ever since the first day of the season. This is not to criticise Lee Grant; for he is a superb goalkeeper and a player I have a lot of time for, but his tendency to make a silly mistake seems to destabilise the defence in front of him and make them panic. With Carson in goal, this ongoing concern has seemed to subside and be replaced with sensible, reasoned thought. Added to this, he is also a quality goalkeeper when it comes to making saves. Look at his performance for Derby during the 2-0 victory at Hull and you see a steady defence with a ‘keeper making some outstanding stops.
Richard Keogh on the other hand seems to be favoured for the award mainly for his resilience, passion and consistency throughout the season despite receiving so much personal abuse towards the end of last season and having doubt cast over his abilities during the summer, not forgetting that he also gave up the captaincy to remove the burden from his shoulders, though he has now regained the post. Along with Shackell, he has been almost unbreakable at the heart of the defence and his truly proven his doubters wrong, leading the team forward and remaining a leader on the pitch – with or without the captaincy. He has done little that is too spectacular, but everything he has done has been carried out efficiently and professionally, with his passion for the club also shining through every time the Essex born Irishman steps out in a Rams’ shirt. Keogh is a man that will put himself on the line for the cause, of course there are mistakes here and there but every player makes mistakes, and none have been particularly catastrophic this season. Keogh’s influence on shoring up the defence cannot be underestimated, especially on a mentality side of things, with players noticeably more comfortable with Keogh on the pitch than off it.
One such player is the final candidate, Cyrus Christie. Very much a confidence player, his first season at the Rams during 2014/15 started well but soon deteriorated and eventually became a disaster, with Christie’s confidence clearly rock bottom and fans getting on his back from all angles. This obviously isn’t going to help any player regain self-belief. However, the right-back started this season on the front foot and carried on from there, winning the fans over and providing some memorable assists along the way – notably a superb low cross for Chris Martin’s goal vs Brentford at the iPro Stadium back in October. His defensive work has also improved, making numerous vital blocks and challenges and looking far more comfortable in defence than he had throughout the entirety of last season, something very good for a predominantly attacking player. The confidence also seems to have flooded back too, perhaps now used to playing for a club the size of Derby, with Christie showing his plethora of tricks on various occasions, not to mention his trademark rampage down the right hand side.
It is always tough to pick a Player of the Year but for me it has to be Richard Keogh once again this year. His stability and consistency in defence has been an evergreen symbol of this season, all the more impressive after bouncing back from last year’s disappointment. Christie has done remarkably well to turn things around and craft himself into a first choice right-back, but his consistency has been left wanting at times. Carson runs Keogh the closest, but there are some matches you almost forget we have a goalkeeper, largely down to Keogh and Shackell’s solid defensive work in the centre. This is not necessarily Carson’s fault, but Keogh has been so reliable and consistent that I cannot see past Mr Derby County himself to win this year’s Jack Stamps’ Trophy.
Which of the three main candidates do you think should win Derby County’s Player of the Season award, or should it in fact go elsewhere? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by RobbieJBarratt