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) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
Voting for the Supporters Association’s player of the year awards closes in six days, and like the American presidential primaries, we’re now looking at two reduced fields of candidates.
Considering the landslide that is the Young Player of the Season award first, Robbie Evans would have to promise to build a wall between Pen-y-Cae and Wrexham, and see his campaign manager arrested for assaulting Rich Williams at a press conference to lose public backing. He’s the only realistic candidate – he’s made 43 appearances this season and the nine other eligible candidates have made 21 between them!
Evans has enjoyed his best season to date in a career which has always been full of promise, scoring in derbies against Chester and Tranmere and clearly earning Gary Mills’ trust, starting in all but five games this season, and has played more than twice as many matches as he’s previously managed in a campaign.
Perhaps the one possible reason not to vote for Evans would be if you feel the young player award ought to go to a promising newcomer who has broken through this season. In that case you could look to Jonathan Smith. He has only made a couple of substitute appearances, but he clearly has talent and anyone who saw his late cameo at Macclesfield would confirm that he has pace to burn.
Throw in his performances at youth level and the admiring comments of the Racecourse coaching staff and you have one to watch. However, Evans surely has to retain the trophy in the final season he’s eligible for it. Or you could vote for Taylor McKenzie, just for a laugh.
ELIGIBLE PLAYERS FOR YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON (minimum 1 first team appearance this season)
Ross White, Mason Watkins-Clark, Ryan O’Reilly, Robbie Evans, Jon Royle, Jonathan Smith, Joel Logan, Danny O’Brien, Joe Quigley
As for the senior award, it’s made complicated by the fact that individual performances have reflected our patchy season. There have been plenty of players who have looked sensational for periods of the season, but then dropped out of form and even the starting eleven. The most striking examples of these would be Dom Vose, who went so far as to drop out of the division, and Adriano Moke, who I remain convinced is a rare talent at this level.
Other players have failed to put in a full season out of necessity. Simon Heslop and Rhys Taylor have been terrific since their arrivals, but can you select of player of the season who only played in half of it? Likewise, Kayden Jackson has impressed once he was finally given a chance, and Mark Carrington’s season essentially began when Gary Mills selected him at right back for the first time, in January.
Manny Smith, Jamal Fyfield and Blaine Hudson have all been solid, but in the end my choice comes down to two men. Sean Newton has been a constant source of energy and commitment on the left flank, and Evans’ case is clear, but it’s hard to ignore the argument for Connor Jennings.
Like Robbie Evans in some ways, Jennings has had a breakthrough season. That might seem an illogical claim about a man who scored fourteen goals in fourteen games at Macclesfield two seasons ago, but this has been his first campaign where he’s shown consistency throughout.
Mills immediately identified his value when he made the surprise call to give him the armband, and he has responded, playing with commitment and quality in a variety of roles. As our top scorer and with the most assists in the squad, he has end product too. In some ways my mind was finally made up last Saturday though. You can measure someone’s value best in their absence, and our struggles against Dover when Jennings was suspended showed just why he’s been the player of the season.