Awards season is upon us, and it’s appropriate to look back at the players who have made the greatest contribution to our promotion challenge, and are therefore in contention for the Player of the Season award.
For me, it’s hard to look beyond Shaun Pearson. Last year he rightly won the award as a consequence of his leadership and fierce defending, and this season he has continued in the same vein. Furthermore, he has chipped in with goals, the six he has managed being the most he’s achieved at this level.
The other obvious contender is Rob Lainton. We’ve already matched the club record for clean sheets in a campaign, and Lainton has achieved more league shut-outs than any other keeper in our history has managed in a season.
Obviously, such a record is achieved by the whole defensive unit, not just the goalkeeper. However, a number of those clean sheets owed a lot to Lainton, especially in the early part of the season when, as we looked to play a more open style of football, we left ourselves exposed at the back. The early victories over Borehamwood and Maidenhead felt emphatic at the final whistle, but football fans have a tendency to accept the final score as an inevitability once the match has ended. Both those games could have turned out very differently if Lainton hadn’t made a string of saves when the outcome hung in the balance.
Lainton has been a solid and consistent presence behind a strong back four and is certainly worthy of recognition.
Other members of the defensive unit are worthy of mention, and it’s a shame that Jake Lawlor’s injury rules him out of the run-in. Losing Manny Smith to a long term injury would be a serious blow to any side at this level, but the way Lawlor immediately settled into the back four was a massive reassurance to fans and team mates alike.
Further forward, Akil Wright has taken genuine steps forward this season. He has been asked to adapt to a number of midfield positions, winning the league’s player of the month award for his efforts as a defensive midfielder, adapting to an unfamiliar role supporting the strikers which has led to the most prolific season of his career, and also playing with typical drive in his more familiar box-to-box role.
The same can be said of Luke Young, who has added mobility, dynamism and passing range to the deeper midfield position in recent games. He has been a consistent presence in the middle of the pitch and is capable of a spectacular finish, as Dagenham’s goalkeeper will confirm, assuming he’s watched Young’s brilliant strike past him online: he certainly didn’t see it at the time!
There are other players who deserve a mention too. Paul Rutherford’s willingness to run himself into the ground in the name of our cause is a given, which reflects wonderfully on his qualities as a professional. Luke Summerfield has brought consistency and guile to the centre of the pitch and his injury in the run-in was a major blow. Stuart Beavon’s intelligent movement and love of harassing centre backs is always a pleasure to watch. Brad Walker’s injury robbed us of a crucial influence in front of the back four.
Still, I just can’t see my way past Pearson. However, I’ll be happy to change my mind and nominate whoever scores the 95th minute winner at Wembley in the play-off final!