Time's running out if you want to vote for the Supporters Association's Player of the Year (vote here), and as I ruminated over who I would plump for, I realised that the nature of the field revealed a lot about our season.
Perhaps I should say the nature of the fields, as there are two awards. The young player of the season is recognised too, and a look at the contenders for both awards is rather revealing.
To be honest, there really aren't too many real contenders for the senior award, which tells you all you need to know about a disappointing season. Too few players have lived up to expectations and as a result we've suffered a grim campaign.
The exceptions are interesting, but there are conditions attached to a lot of them. Plenty of people favour Simon Spender, and his whole-hearted commitment to the cause certainly would make him a worthy winner. It's interesting that he has been left on the sidelines for a fair chunk of the season and yet emerges as a strong contender to be our best player though!
Likewise Michael Proctor, the only player to have managed a consistent goal threat in the campaign, is a possible candidate, yet he has regularly been left on the bench by both Brians. Phil Bolland, whose contribution since arriving on a free from Chester makes you seriously doubt the judgement of erstwhile Deva boss Bobby Williamson, has made a real contribution, yet he has been here for less than four months! That players who have put in a good half season can be strong contenders for the accolade shows that the field is thin; if Danny Sonner had stayed fit for a bit longer he would have walked it! Mind you, if he'd remained fit we might just have dug ourselves out of this mess!
Though I considered all of the above, my vote goes to Neil Roberts. Nobody could doubt his commitment to the cause, which was encapsulated in his performance at MK Dons last week. Clearly frustrated and enraged as basic defensive errors handed the game to the opposition in the first ten minutes, he snapped and snarled around midfield, angrily dissenting the referee's decisions in a manner I've never seen before. When he was given a chance to pull his side back into the game from the spot, having typically won the penalty himself, he seemed to take all his frustration out on the ball. He usually places his penalties, but this one he thrashed into the roof of the net so hard that it seemed he might uproot the posts! Even though he often doesn't wear the armband, Roberts is truly the captain of the club.
When you see the contenders for the young player award a couple of things occur to you. Firstly, the field is a lot more convincing! The likes of Neil Taylor, Wes Baynes, the Williams brothers and Gareth Evans can all genuinely be pleased with the progress they've made since August, and one might argue that some of them merited more opportunity to impress. Likewise last season's winner, Matty Done, has continued to show promise despite limited opportunity, but for his great promise it has to be Taylor for me.
However, the sheer number of candidates for the junior award tells its own story. Eleven of the players (Wes Baynes, Mike Carvill, Matty Done, Andy Fleming, Gareth Evans, Robbie Garrett, Marc Williams, Michael Jones, Mike Williams, Stuart Nicholson and Neil Taylor) we've used this season were under twenty-one years old at the start of the season; that's nearly a third of the players we fielded and remember that we were just one player short of equalling the record for the most players fielded in a campaign. With a big chunk of the squad over thirty as well, you can see the problem. Allan Hansen was made to look foolish when he suggested you win nothing with kids, but a mixture of kids and aging players has been a recipe for disaster.