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The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On (Part 2)

The second instalment in the series re-examining the progress made by the Top 25 players in the Championship, named a year ago.

Joe Harrison and John Verrall have once again joined forces with me to review three-quarters of the top 25, with a selection of excellent club writers filling in for the remaining seven on the list.  Throughout this week I’ll publish updates on each player, giving an insight into the progress made in the intervening 14 months.

Today's instalment kicks off with another player from our list who would be ineligible from a vote this year, as he is plying his trade in the Premier League.  Rob Langham, lifelong Reading fan and proprietor of the host of the Top 25 archive at The Two Unfortunates, takes a look at how Jimmy Kebe's career has evolved since his match-winning performances helped the Royals to a late and somewhat surprising surge to promotion.

Jimmy Kebe:  Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Reading 
Club now:  Reading
Progress made?  Promotion to the Premier League

A couple of weeks ago, Jimmy Kebe pounced twice as Reading bossed long stages of a Premier League match for the first time in 2012-13. First, he capped a superb move by neatly sidestepping Sunderland’s flailing defence to thump the ball high past Simon Mignolet; then he rose at the back post to provide Reading with a 2-1 win and continue their most unlikely revival.

In many ways, Kebe’s season has mirrored Reading’s. Occasionally missing through injury, he has generally struggled to impose himself on matches, although the strength of the opposition does provide a mitigating factor. As an example, the pace and tenacity of Ashley Cole in the recent 2-2 draw with Chelsea forced the Malian into a defensive role and it’s as a disciplined wide midfielder that Kebe has been compelled to reinvent himself this campaign.

The second half of 2011-12 saw Kebe make a telling impact on a number of occasions; not least with two assists on a never to be forgotten night at St. Mary’s – his perfect cross allowed Jason Roberts to nod the Royals into the lead while an adroit cut back for Adam Le Fondre restored Reading’s advantage en route to a Championship defining 3-1 win over Southampton. Kebe’s pace remains a major asset – even when the team is struggling, he’s capable of transporting the ball from box to box in a few seconds.

He’s also the epitome of the confidence player of course – as Reading struggled before Christmas and appeared woefully short of quality, Kebe’s role often seemed circumscribed but his ability to defend and keep his position has seen him preferred to Garath McCleary and Hal Robson-Kanu for the most part. Against Sunderland recently, his contribution was decisive.

Next up is a Leicester double, with thanks to Mike McCarthy, better known as the Fox Blogger, for the updates on this pair of Foxes.

Club in Dec 2011:  Leicester City
Club now:  Leicester City
Progress made?  Still in the Championship (5th)

How do you solve a problem like Andy King?

On the one hand there is the talented youngster, famed for his stealthy late runs into the box. A cool finisher when given the opportunity. Level headed too.

At the tender age of 24, King has already secured more than 200 appearances for the club. His skill and experience would be an asset to almost any team in the division. 

But the manager who made King a first team regular now seems reluctant to keep Leicester's best youth product since Emile Heskey in the first eleven. 

At his best as the attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, King no longer seems to fit Nigel Pearson's 4-4-2.

When asked to fill a more defensive role, his creativity suffers. Some fans ask the point of including him at all. It's not an unfair question. Though analysis such as these should always be taken with an industrial pinch of salt - Leicester's record this season has been far better without him.

But Andy King's best days are still ahead of him. He remains a match for the best attacking midfielders in the division - it’s just that right now his manager isn’t prepared to build a team around him.

Kasper Schmeichel: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Leicester City
Club now:  Leicester City
Progress made?  Still in the Championship (5th)

Kasper Schmeichel was rewarded with his first international start recently, it was well deserved.

The Dane was Leicester’s player of the year last season and has continued this year in similar form. 

With 12 clean sheets so far Schmeichel is already well on his way to eclipsing the 14 Leicester managed last season. It’s a record that reflects his understanding with the back four and of course his natural shot stopping ability.

That said, Kasper isn’t immune from the odd clanger - though he has earned most of the luck that has seen him though those dodgy moments. That’s because Schmeichel has picked up the useful habit of saving penalties. The two he’s stopped this season have secured 1-0 wins for his side on each occasion.

He’s incredibly popular too, even Leicester City legend Gordon Banks was glowing with praise for Schmeichel in a recent interview.

The Dane is maturing as a goalkeeper and deserves another chance in the Premier League. If his current level of performance continues he won’t have long to wait.

The fourth player under the spotlight today is Bristol City's Albert Adomah.

Albert Adomah: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Bristol City
Club now:  Bristol City
Progress made?  Still in the Championship (23rd)

One year on and the transfer deadline day wishes of Bristol City fans were much as they'd been 12 months earlier - desperately hoping to avoid mention of Albert Adomah's name on the Sky Sports ticker. The fact that Adomah was in South Africa, helping his native Ghana to the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations, appeared to do little to dispel the stories about moves to Fulham, Aston Villa or Crystal Palace.

As it turns out the message from his agent seems to be that Adomah is waiting for a Premier League move, and with just a year left on his contract after this summer, one suspects now may be the time for one of the smaller top flight clubs to take the plunge, probably having to part with as little as £1-£1.5m cash to get their man.

Adomah has had a mixed year since, rarely displaying the sort of form alluded to in the original article but being consistently one of the West Country club's most potent of attacking forces. His pace and trickery remain a key ingredient to worry any defender at this level, but the continued lack of a consistent end product, be it via goals or pinpoint crosses, mean others in the division - most notably Wilf Zaha & Tom Ince - have far surpassed Adomah's mildly-lit star and instead of a future in the Premier League, Adomah's immediate task is to once again help steer the Robins clear of relegation danger.

And finally today, the eighth player to be reviewed in this update, Joe Harrison returns to take a look at Nottingham Forest's former number one, who of all the players named has had a surprisingly turbulent few months but perhaps has brighter days ahead:

Club in Dec 2011:  Nottingham Forest
Club now:  Norwich City
Progress made?  Moved to the Premier League

Lee Camp offers a lesson in how a footballer’s stock can fall in a relatively short space of time.

Though the 2010/11 season ultimately ended in play-off disappointment for Nottingham Forest, Camp could look back on the campaign as something of a personal triumph – a string of outstanding performances seeing him widely regarded as the best goalkeeper the Championship had to offer. 

It was this form that led to Forest’s play-off conquerors, newly promoted Swansea City, making a number of bids for the Northern Ireland international. Forest flatly rejected these, a decision understood to have upset Camp.

In the following season, the breakdown of that move to the Premier League appeared to have affected Forest’s number 1, with his performances failing to match the high standards he had set himself (although he was hardly alone in this at the City Ground). 

This season has seen a similar story, with continued tension between the goalkeeper and the Forest hierarchy, leading to a statement on the club’s official website confirming his release from Forest on a free transfer. 

So, a strange end to such a promising career in Nottingham, but Camp looks set to move to Norwich (he has signed since this was written), and with John Ruddy’s injury problems and Mark Bunn’s less than convincing form, he may be finally about to get the chance to prove himself in the Premier League.

Read Part 1 of 'The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On'

The Exiled Robin


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