The EFL released the shortlist for the Championship Player of the Year on Monday. The three players that are competing for the award are Leeds United striker Chris Wood, Newcastle United striker Dwight Gayle and Brighton winger Anthony Knockaert. They have all starred in teams competing at the top of the division and there were few surprises when the news was announced. Wood and Gayle are also competing to finish the season as the division’s top scorer and it could be that the winner of that will win this award as well.
Why have they been nominated?
The current frontrunner for the award is Wood, which isn’t surprising considering the incredible season that he is having. The New Zealand international has scored 24 goals in 36 matches, with a goal coming every 121.5 minutes. His goals have directly led to nine wins for Leeds, highlighting that he not only scores often, but his goals are important ones. This season has been one of improvement as he has already scored 11 more goals than he managed in the last campaign, despite attempting fewer shots per game. He has helped his side to a play-off position and they have a great chance of reaching the Premier League for the first time since 2004. Without him, they would have struggled to finish in the top six.
Dwight Gayle was set for a record-breaking Championship season before injuries hampered his goal record during the second half of the season. He currently stands on 21 strikes and he will be confident of adding to his tally before the end of the season. The 26-year-old has managed to score a goal every 92.3 minutes, which is extraordinary at this level. After deciding to drop back down to the second tier, the pressure was on the striker to prove himself once again. People will point to him playing on the team expected to win the league, but that brings extra pressure and he has dealt with that well.
After joining Brighton at the beginning of 2016, Anthony Knockaert has wowed supporters on the South Coast. They managed to keep hold of him during the summer amid interest from Newcastle United and it was certainly the right decision to keep hold of him. Many pundits consider him to be the best player in the division and he has a very good case to win this award. He has contributed 13 goals and seven assists already this season, with a goal involvement every 157 minutes. The winger is exciting to watch and he is excellent at beating players, creating space for himself and his team-mates. He also works hard defensively averaging 2.6 ball recoveries per game.
Anyone unlucky to miss out?
There will always be a lot of debate among supporters about individual awards, but on this occasion, two players can feel unlucky to miss out. Tom Cairney has been excellent for Fulham and is the driving force behind their play-off push. The midfielder is set to play in the Premier League next season, with or without Fulham and it is easy to see why there is interest from bigger clubs. He has taken his game to the next level over the past 12 months, contributing nine goals and nine assists to date.
Another player that should be in the running is Matt Ritchie. He has arguably been Newcastle’s star man over the course of the season, but a lot of what he does goes unnoticed. His leadership and work rate can’t be quantified and that is why he may have been overlooked. Although he has failed to match his goal-scoring exploits of 2014/15, he has scored nine times and made seven assists. His consistency has been remarkable and he is unlucky not to be nominated.
Who will win it?
There is still a lot of football to be played and it is difficult to make a decision on such an award until the end of the season. At the moment, Chris Wood has the best case. He may have a worse scoring goal than Gayle in terms of goals per minute, but he has played for the entire season and has offered a lot to Leeds other than goals. A lot of his goals have been important ones and he could yet lead his team to the Premier League. There is also an argument that he has surpassed what was expected of him before the season kicked off, while Gayle has lived up to his pre-season billing.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Dan Westwell
Rodrigo reported as Brighton target, but he is surely too expensive?
The Valencia striker is reportedly wanted by a trio of Premier League clubs.
Brighton, along with Tottenham Hotspur and Everton have been linked with a move for Valencia forward Rodrigo this summer.
Calciomercato claims that all three clubs are interested in signing the Spanish international come the summer. The report discloses his massive €120 million (£105.4 million) release clause, but that offers in the region of €40 million (£35 million) are expected.
Which is surely when the links to Brighton have to stop.
Rodrigo, who had a spell at Bolton Wanderers as a young player on loan from Benfica, would be a tremendous signing for Brighton.
The 22-year-old has scored 16 goals in 35 games for Los Che this season. Such form could see him earn a place in Spain’s squad for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Brighton, however, simply cannot afford such a massive sum of money on one player, especially considering the club recently broke their record to sign Dutch striker Jurgen Locadia.
According to the Guardian, that fee was around £14 million. Paying more than double that on Rodrigo is simply inconceivable.
It would immediately undermine the money they spent on Locadia, who arrived from PSV Eindhoven and leave very little in the kitty to improve other areas of the team this summer.
Rodrigo would undoubtedly be a dream signing for Brighton. The Seagulls look increasingly safe in the Premier League and bringing in a top name this summer would be a popular move among fans at the Amex Arena.
But simply put, £35 million is just not a figure Brighton can or should pay for just one player. Instead, such money should be spread out throughout the team evenly. Distributing the funds in this way will allow Brighton to fully strengthen their side and maintain the balance that has taken them to a brilliant first Premier League campaign.
There might come a day when Brighton can afford to splurge £35 million on just one player. That day, however, will not be in 2018.
Is Brighton’s Christian Walton a future England star?
The 22-year-old stopper has been in fine form at Wigan Athletic.
Wigan Athletic’s FA Cup run has come to an end. The Latics lost 2-0 against Southampton at the DW Stadium, despite being the better team in the first-half. However, Southampton came alive in the second period and goals from Pierre Hojbjerg and Cedric Soares settled the tie.
It could have been more, were it not for a brilliant penalty save from Wigan goalkeeper Christian Walton. He dived to his left and got a strong palm to a driven effort from 12 yards by Manolo Gabbiadini. Unbelievably, Walton managed to get enough on the ball to turn it around the post and keep Wigan in the tie.
It was a brilliant save in what was another excellent performance from the young stopper. So do Brighton and Hove Albion have a future star on their hands?
Walton is on loan at Wigan from Brighton until the end of the season. It is the fifth loan spell of Walton’s career after similar spells at Bury, Plymouth Argyle, Luton Town and Southend United.
The 22-year-old’s brilliant performance v Southampton was no anomaly. He was in fine form in Wigan’s recent famous win against Manchester City.
Brighton clearly know they have a top talent on their hands, yet Chris Hughton has not yet pulled the trigger on the player.
In the summer, when Brighton lost number one David Stockdale to Birmingham City, Hughton signed two new keepers. Australian international Mat Ryan arrived from Valencia whilst Tim Krul was a free transfer from Newcastle United.
But Brighton did secure Walton to a new deal, keeping him at the Amex Arena until 2021. With Krul’s deal ending at the end of the season, perhaps Walton will be in line to be the Seagulls second-choice keeper from next season.
England currently have something of a concern regarding the goalkeeper position but the future is bright. Sam Johnstone, Freddie Woodman and Angus Gunn look like top talents and Walton must be included in the same company.
Not only an excellent shot-stopper, but Walton is confident coming off his line and good with the ball at his feet.
The competition is certainly fierce, with the likes of Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope also potential future England goalkeepers.
But Walton might just be in with a shout of such accolades in the future as well if he can find his way at Brighton.
Manager of the Month: Can Chris Hughton now play out a dream season with Brighton?
The Brighton boss was recently crowned February Manager of the Month.
Chris Hughton has not received a huge amount of exposure for the job that he is doing with Brighton, but back-to-back Premier League wins have seen the Seagulls rise to 10th position in the table and he has subsequently been rewarded with the February Manager of the Month award.
As a newly-promoted team, they will have targeted survival. Although it remains tight at the bottom, it would take a considerable drop-off for the South Coast team to suffer relegation, especially following an unbeaten run throughout the last month.
But Hughton won’t be getting too far ahead of himself. After all, his team squandered a seven-point lead with three games to go in the Championship last season.
That said, he has done a tremendous job at the Amex Stadium and gone a long way to proving those that doubted him wrong. Hughton is seen as one of the nicest men in football and a safe pair of hands, but he hasn’t always convinced as a Premier League manager.
His first spell in charge of a top-flight club was at Newcastle United. Hughton led them back to the Premier League at the first attempt and the team were in 11th position when he was dismissed. It was considered harsh at the time and even Magpies owner Mike Ashley has admitted since that it was a mistake in an interview with Sky Sports:
“I thought I was very unfair to Chris Hughton, who got us promoted, I don’t think I gave him enough time.”
Hughton was well liked by both the players and supporters at Newcastle. He pulled the club together after the disaster of relegation and managed to win the Championship with ease. Considering it was his first job in management, he was thrown straight into a difficult job and coped well with it. The sacking has unfairly put a black mark on his record and he has been trying to erase it ever since.
The next Premier League he was given was at Norwich City and he fared okay with the Canaries. During his first season, he led them to 11th position. Considering their relative stature in the game, that is a great achievement. However, the style of play was bland and supporters were quick to turn on him in the following season.
The club sacked him with five matches to go in the 2013/14 campaign with the club lying five points above the relegation zone. It was a strange decision, especially as Neil Adams was chosen to take over with no experience of top-flight management. Norwich were relegated that season. They may have faced the same fate had they kept faith in Hughton, but they would have had a better chance of survival.
How he has enhanced his reputation at Brighton
Despite doing a decent job with Norwich before dismissal, Hughton had to drop a division to take his next job and it was with Brighton and Hove Albion. The Seagulls were in 21st position at the time after the poor tenure of Sami Hyypia, but the potential was obvious.
The facilities were great and the new stadium was built with Premier League football as the target. The club had challenged at the top for a number of years previous and had become regulars in the play-offs, but they couldn’t get over the line.
Hughton had won promotion with Newcastle and came close with Birmingham. It was a perfect match as he needed to repair his reputation out of the spotlight. It wasn’t instant success as he fought relegation for the rest of the season and stayed up by only six points. However, he did enough to win favour with the board and he hasn’t looked back since.
During his second season, the club challenged for promotion and missed out only on goal difference by two goals. It was heartbreak on the final day as they needed a win against rivals Middlesbrough, but came up short. They couldn’t get themselves back up for the play-offs and were knocked out by Sheffield Wednesday.
It seemed like both Hughton and Brighton had missed their opportunity of promotion, but they regrouped and earned it the following season in convincing fashion. They may have collapsed late to lose out on the title, but they had won promotion by April and it was never really in doubt.
That was an excellent achievement, but there remained doubts about Hughton’s ability to establish Brighton in the Premier League.
The summer saw him make shrewd additions with Pascal Gross, Mathew Ryan, Davy Propper, Ezequiel Schelotto and Jose Izquierdo coming in to strengthen the first-team. It took some of them time to settle, but they are all now starters. As a newly-promoted club, it is important to add quality to the squad if you are to survive.
Despite being a newly-promoted club, Brighton haven’t really been in much danger of relegation this season. They haven’t been in the relegation zone since the second week of the season. The bottom-half of the table has been tight, but the Seagulls have always had a buffer to the relegation zone. They have taken points from 18 of their 19 matches and their recent match display against Arsenal was the highlight of their season to date.
In the first-half, they attacked with vigour and caused Arsenal a lot of problems. They went 2-0 up and could have scored more on another day.
Although the Gunners got a goal back, the result never looked in serious danger and the home side managed the game well. It was a performance fitting of a Premier League team and the aim now will be to establish themselves at this level over the course of several years.
It is a challenge that Hughton will be relishing. In a period of few British coaches at the highest level, the Brighton manager is proving that he is one of the best and he could start to be linked with bigger jobs if he continues to impress.
The Seagulls remain in the FA Cup and have reached the quarter-final stage for the first time since 1986. Hughton is establishing himself as one of the best managers in the club’s history and although they face a difficult match against Manchester United to reach Wembley, they have the ability to get to the next round.
There is a long way to go in this season, but Brighton could feasibly finish in the top half of the Premier League and win the FA Cup. That would be a season beyond the wildest dreams of many supporters. It remains a long shot, but to be in with a chance is a great achievement by Hughton.
If his side can finish the season strongly, he has to be in contention to win Manager of the Year award.
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