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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On (Part 4)

The Top 25 players in the Championship were named a year ago on The Seventy Two, a culmination of personal views and ultimately a fan's vote.  Fourteen have already been reviewed this week and this fourth update takes a cursory glance at a further six players, four of whom are now on the books of Premier League clubs.

Firstly today, Joe Harrison provides an angle on one of the few from the list to have commanded a significant transfer fee since appearing in the vote.

Jay Rodriguez:  Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Burnley 
Club now:  Southampton
Progress made?  Moved to the Premier League

A year on, it comes as no surprise that Jay Rodriguez would be ineligible for the same list this year, as he has made the step up to the Premier League. Unfortunately for Burnley, it has not been with them, Southampton signing the Lancastrian for a fee believed to be around £7m following his 21 goals for the Clarets last season. It would be an understatement to say that the Saints were keen to get their man – not only did they spend £7m on a player entering the final year of his contract; they had had bids for him rejected in both of the previous two transfer windows, too.

The 23 year old is not guaranteed a place in the Saints’ first team, with Rickie Lambert often preferred as the focal point of the attack, but he has started his fair share of games, making over 20 Premier League appearances. He is also off the mark in the league, including a goal at Old Trafford. As with the rest of the Southampton squad, it remains to be seen what impact the managerial changes at St Mary’s will have on Rodriguez, but the evidence of the season so far suggests he will form an important part of a Saints team hoping to consolidate their Premier League status. 

John Verrall from Peterborough United blog 'Standing on the Glebe' was one of the original contributors to the Best 25 list, and takes a look at the next two players on today's review.

Jacob Butterfield: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Barnsley
Club now:  Norwich City (Crystal Palace on loan)
Progress made?  Moved to the Premier League

Jacob Butterfield’s year has been a frustrating one. After a really impressive start to the 2011/2012 campaign with Barnsley, he became a key figure for The Tykes and was even put in as captain at the tender age of 21.

As such attention of higher placed clubs was drawn and Norwich City were the ones who took a chance on Butterfield, bringing him to Carrow Road in the summer.

His chances in East Anglia have been limited though and he is yet to make his Norwich City debut with the club choosing to loan him out to Bolton and Crystal Palace, where he is currently playing now.

However, Butterfield still has youth on his side and, if he can continue to impress at Championship level, regaining the form that saw him gain a move to the Premier League, he may well still have a bright future at Norwich City. 

Club in Dec 2011:  West Ham United
Club now:  West Ham United
Progress made?  Promotion to the Premier League

The combative West Ham United central midfielder has gone from strength to strength over the past few years.

Although the Hammers relegation to the Championship was very disappointing for the supporters of the club, it allowed Noble to come to the fore as he raised his game and became a key member of the squad which eventually got them promoted.

Now a regular in their Premier League, Noble has cast any doubts about his ability at the top level aside and has put in a series of notable appearances in this season – scoring four times in the process.

Two hot-shot strikers are up next, and firstly I review a prolific Championship goal-getter before moving onto a player desperate for an injury-free season to prove his true value.

Billy Sharp: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Doncaster Rovers
Club now:  Southampton (Nottingham Forest on loan)
Progress made?  Promotion to the Premier League

One of those to earn a  move shortly after the list was published, Sharp made a crucial contribution to new club Southampton's surge to promotion, albeit without truly establishing himself as first choice. He returned a strike rate as impressive as ever with nine goals in 20 appearances, even more significant when it's considered that nearly half of those appearances came from the bench.

However despite those goals, once promotion was assured the Saints moved quickly to secure Burnley's Jay Rodriguez (his year is analysed above) and following a couple of appearances in the early Premier League games, Sharp once again found himself surplus to requirements and scanning the Championship for another option.  

Nottingham Forest, with ambitions aplenty following their takeover and Sharp's former Doncaster manager Sean O'Driscoll at the helm seemed a perfect opportunity, and following seven games without a goal, a purple patch ensued, with Sharp's eight goals in 14 matches helping O'Driscoll's side to the brink of the playoff positions.  

Sharp has continued to score goals since O’Driscoll’s abrupt and surprising departure, but ultimately perhaps seems destined to be one of those players never quite considered good enough for the top flight, despite how valuable an asset he can be in the Championship.

Nicky Maynard: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Bristol City
Club now:  Cardiff City (via West Ham United)
Progress made?  Still in the Championship (1st)

An acrimonious month at Bristol City followed by a deadline day transfer to West Ham was to await wantaway striker Maynard following the publication of the original list, and it's not been all sweetness and light since.  The ex-Crewe Alexandra forward struggled to make an impact at the Boleyn, and although a pair of goals played their part in pushing the Hammers over the finish line, their other Championship deadline day signing, Ricardo Vaz Te (not a name on our list incidentally), became the preferred option.

A summer move back West, a little further along the M4 to ambitious Cardiff City, seemed to offer Maynard another chance at playing in a successful Championship campaign. However, whilst the club's campaign has thundered on relentlessly, Maynard's own participation has been minimal.  Three, albeit impressive, games into his career for the Welsh side, an all-too-familiar damaged knee ligament prognosis has left this talented marksman sitting on the treatment table whilst his new colleagues lead him into the promised land.  

Time will soon tell if Maynard can take his chance in the top flight, assuming Cardiff don't demonstrate an exaggerated version of their annual springtime collapse, and also on the proviso that his unfortunate proneness to long term knee injuries doesn't become career threatening.

And finally for this penultimate part of the review, John Verrall reviews another of London Road's shining lights.

Grant McCann: Top 25 review from 2011
Club in Dec 2011:  Peterborough United
Club now:  Peterborough United
Progress made?  Still in the Championship (24th)

At the age of 33 Grant McCann has found himself beginning to take a back-seat at Peterborough United, with his first-team appearances being limited this season. His passing range still remains, but his pace and stamina – two areas of his game which have never been his major assets – have depleted even further and Darren Ferguson has used him much more sparingly this campaign.

That said, a talented player he still remains. After starting the season in the transfer-list, the Northern Irish international forced his way back into Ferguson’s first-team plans after a promising start to the season and, although his contract is due to expire at the end of this campaign, there has been slight hints that a potential contract extension may happen in recent times. Indeed, McCann has made no secret of his desire to stay at Posh.

Ferguson has always stated that he feels McCann plays best when he is deployed in a midfield three, but he is now being used in central midfield duo at London Road and has still shown he has the fitness and physical levels to continue playing Championship football, with a late winner against Leicester City in his most recent game.

Read Part 1 of 'The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On'
Read Part 2 of 'The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On'
Read Part 3 of 'The Best 25 Players in the Championship; One Year On'

The Exiled Robin

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