Once again it’s been a year when our defence has racked up some impressive stats, but how have they done individually?
After his short stint with us at the end of last season it was difficult to work out whether Wright had been a success or not. He was clearly very experienced and combative, but there were times when, exposed to pace on the flanks, he struggled. As a consequence he looked more secure at centre back, where he wasn’t getting many opportunities because the partnership of Mark Creighton and Nat Knight-Percival was unshakable. This season he addressed those concerns.
Wright has had more game time at centre back, and looked impressive. It’s been his improved performances at right back which have really stood out though. Perhaps it’s a matter of fitness: Wright arrived off the back of a series of serious set-backs and maybe needed that run at the end of last season to get some pitch time. His propensity to pick up a knock hasn’t disappeared this season, unfortunately, but he certainly has been more able to keep going, especially during the crucial run-in.
Utterly reliable at full back, deceptively dangerous going forwards and a genuine leader, Wright has been one of the unsung heroes of the season. 8/10
Another frustrating campaign for Walker, a talented full back who always looks just on the verge of making a breakthrough. Often injury has been the barrier to his progress, and there’s no doubt that if he’d had a clean bill of health he’d have developed a great deal more by now.
He has ability, proven by the fact that both Dean Saunders and Andy Morrell have sought to start seasons with him as first choice right back, but he remains happier going forwards, where he is a genuine threat, rather than when he’s engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a winger in his own half. In that respect, his contemporary Johnny Hunt has progressed further – a testimony to how quickly a player can develop if he avoids injury in his key formative years. 6/10
What a shame that injury cut short his season. The fact that Swansea have just given him a long term contract shows how highly he’s rated at his parent club, but over two loan spells he hasn’t quite been able to show fully what he can do. 6/10
Always reliable, a genuine asset at the back, Ashton h quite simply done what it says on the tin: strong defending and forceful overlapping.
He’s always been a good source of assists, but it was something of a mystery why a player so dangerous going forwards had such a barren scoring record. This season he addressed that: while taking over on penalties clearly helped, he has chipped in with an impressive tally this season for a full back. If you want some context on that, look back at the moribund 2009-10 season under Dean Saunders and see how many attacking players scored more than Ashton did this season! 8/10
It was difficult to know which category a utility player like Hunt ought to be placed in, but there’s no doubt he’s made genuine progress across the board.
He used to look a little vulnerable at full back, but when pressed to stand in for Neil Ashton this season he’s been a lot more solid. In midfield his energy and tireless running into the box was a real asset, especially in the early weeks of the campaign before Joe Clarke’s form fully blossomed.
Up front he has divided opinion: he’s not liable to chip in with goals as Danny Wright or Brett Ormerod might, cutting in on the diagonal, but he gives good width, delivers well from wide areas and stretches opposing defences.
The quality which has most stood out, though, has been his combination play. Whether from full back, midfield or attack, the triangles he creates as he links with the players on the left side of the pitch are an intrinsic part of our method. Don’t underestimate Hunt: he might not be flashy, but he sees space quickly and reads the runs of others.
Oh, and he scored a certain penalty too, I seem to recall! 7/10
Tomorrow: The centre backs