Young Player of the Year: Runners and Riders.

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c)

nick rushton

You can still vote for the player of the season at the Leader’s website, and while you’re at it you can also decide who you’d like to see receive the young player award.

When it comes to picking a young player of the season the goalposts shift. Selecting the senior winner’s straightforward: who’s made the greatest impact on the campaign? But there are varying criteria people use to pick a young player.

Do you go on what they achieved for the first team, or recognise promise? Furthermore, if you watch the reserves or youth team regularly, you might spot someone who has made an impression at that level.

There are ten players who’ve appeared in the senior side this season who fulfil the criteria of being under 21 when the campaign began.

Some made very few appearances: Rob Evans and Bradley Reid both look promising but haven’t spent much time on the pitch-just forty minutes between them.

Another player who might have been a very strong contender given more opportunity is Jay Colbeck. I’ve been impressed by his general composure in the attacking third. His midweek goal was nicely timed to encourage voters to plump for him!

It’s a sign of how well the team is doing that Andy Morrell has been able to handle this genuine young talent carefully; in other, less stable days he’d have been pitched into the side more regularly, with the inherent risk that his promise might be burned out. Are 208 minutes of first team action and a bucket-load of obvious promise enough to earn your vote? Similarly, Leon Clowes’ introduction to first team action might be too late to make much of an impression in the poll.

A player who has enjoyed a breakthrough season is Nick Rushton. Morrell has reduced his involvement as the campaign has intensified, but Rushton didn’t fear his responsibilities and chipped in with three goals and six assists.

Rob Ogleby certainly has a strong case as a dangerous substitute who’s managed five goals. He’s clearly one for the future, and it’s good to see he’s been tied down to a new contract. If he can add just a touch more composure in front of goal to his pace he’ll develop into a valuable player for us.

There are contenders in defence too. Let’s immediately discount Danny Devine, a talented centre back who might well have been the clear winner if he’d hung around, but chose to leave in January in less than pleasing circumstances.

Andy Coughlin has been unfortunate to often be thrust into the side in difficult circumstances and as a result hasn’t had the easiest of baptisms, but he has the attributes to develop into a strong keeper.

At right back we’ve really explored the extremes of experience: when Stephen Wright hasn’t been playing there Danny Alfei and Declan Walker have both been given extended opportunities. Walker continues to look a potentially dangerous over-lapping full back, while Alfei is as tidy as you’d expect from a Swansea youth player.

It’s a wide, open field. Your vote could make the difference!

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