TEAMS OF THE YEAR

We pick our League One & Two XI’s of the sea­son

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

THEY’VE walked the di­vi­sion and set records for fun, so it was no sur­prise to see Wolves dom­i­nate the PFA’s League One team of the year. And try as I might, there was just no avoid­ing the di­vi­sion’s best de­fence, best at­tack and record points scor­ers with a mighty 103. That’s why the men in gold also dom­i­nate my top XI of 2013-14.

With so many ex­cel­lent sides – the top four would all have gone up au­to­mat­i­cally last sea­son – it was a tough call, not least in mid­field where League One player of the year Adam Forshaw re­ally should have fea­tured.

But hav­ing seen him only fleet­ingly, I had to plump for Ro­main Vincelot, Ori­ent’s dy­namic play­maker. Like­wise, apolo­gies are due to Rother­ham, whose col­lec­tive out­shone any in­di­vid­ual. Any­way, here’s the team I’d pick to tackle all­com­ers.

GOAL­KEEPER

CARL IKEME - WOLVES WHAT a dif­fer­ence a year makes. Last May, Ikeme was still nurs­ing the hand he broke punch­ing a tac­tics board in frus­tra­tion af­ter his em­bar­rass­ing blun­der against Bris­tol City.

It was an in­ci­dent that seemed to sum up Wolves’ chaotic sea­son, and his sub­se­quent ab­sence did the club no favours as they slipped out of the Cham­pi­onship.

To­day, though, he is the lo­cal hero once more, a model of con­sis­tency who has kept an in­cred­i­ble 25 clean sheets to pro­pel Wolves back to the sec­ond tier.

“Carl has been bril­liant all sea­son,” said Wolves mid­fielder Dave Ed­wards.“I re­ally don’t think there are many bet­ter keep­ers in Eng­land. That might sound a bit much but I’ve played with Joe Hart and Wayne Hennessey and Carl is up there with them.”

RIGHT-BACK

HARRY MAGUIRE - SH­EFFIELD UTD CAN United re­ally hang on the hottest property in League One? Af­ter a third straight ap­pear­ance in the PFA team of the year – at the age of just 21 – it may be time for big­ger and bet­ter things.

From the mo­ment he burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old in early 2011, the young de­fender has gar­nered plau­dits. “Ter­rific, a model pro­fes­sional who gets bet­ter with ev­ery game,” said Neill Collins.

“He’s never flus­tered by any­thing,” said for­mer Blades boss Danny Wil­son.“He was like a se­nior pro at 18.”

Af­ter he helped the Blades keep 16 clean sheets this term, Wolves are ru­moured to be plot­ting a £1m bid. But if for­ma­tive in­ter­est from Ever­ton hard­ens, they won’t stand a chance.

CEN­TRE-BACK

TONY CRAIG – BRENT­FORD MID­FIELD dy­namo Adam Forshaw may have been named League One player of the year, but it was griz­zled vet­eran Tony Craig who won the votes of his team-mates.

The 29-year-old, a vet­eran of pro­mo­tion to the Cham­pi­onship with Mill­wall in 2010, was the epit­ome of solid but un­spec­tac­u­lar, as­sum­ing the cap­taincy in the ab­sence of Kevin O’Con­nor and play­ing through bro­ken bones, an­kle prob­lems and all man­ner of ail­ments to guide Brent­ford to a phenom­e­nal 20 clean sheets.

“Tony is a solid and out­stand­ing pro­fes­sional,” said Bees boss Mark War­bur­ton. “If you had a dress­ing room full of Tony Craigs you would never have any prob­lems.”

CEN­TRE-BACK

DANNY BATTH - WOLVES WHAT were Stale Sol­bakken and Dean Saun­ders think­ing? Both had the 23-year-old Wolves fan on their books last sea­son. Both left him to rot while play­ing men far less ded­i­cated to the cause.

Kenny Jack­ett wasn’t go­ing to make the same mis­take and, along with Sam Rick­etts, made the 23-year-old the bedrock of his de­fence.

Strong and ath­letic, Batth was in­te­gral to Sh­effield Wed­nes­day’s pro­mo­tion to the Cham­pi­onship in 2012 and has proved just as crit­i­cal at Mo­lineux, con­ced­ing just 31 goals in 46 games – the best de­fen­sive record in the en­tire Foot­ball League.

LEFT-BACK JAKE BIDWELL - BRENT­FORD IT’S a good job Brent­ford went up be­cause it’s un­likely Jake Bidwell would have stuck around for an­other sea­son.

Unan­i­mously re­garded as the best left-back in the di­vi­sion – which is as­ton­ish­ing con­sid­er­ing he joined Ever­ton’s academy as a goal­keeper – the 21-year-old has al­ready played more than 100 games for the Bees.

Quick and at­tack-minded with the strength of a con­verted cen­tre-half and prow­ess from set-pieces, Bidwell has been capped at ev­ery age group for Eng­land and has re­port­edly been watched by Gareth South­gate this sea­son. An­other sea­son like this and the Un­der-21 chief won’t be the only one tak­ing notes.

MID­FIELD MOSES ODUBAJO – LEY­TON ORI­ENT ORI­ENT’S young player of the year for the sec­ond sea­son run­ning, Odubajo is a throw­back to the days of mav­er­ick wide­men, all mazy drib­bles and light­ning pace.

Re­jected by Mill­wall – and Ori­ent – as a teenager, he made it third time lucky af­ter win­ning a sec­ond trial at Bris­bane Road and has never looked back.

A screamer on de­but in 2011 set the stan­dard and since then he has been a fea­ture in the side. At 20, there is still the odd de­tour down a blind al­ley or skil-

HARRY MAGUIRE

ful flick that ends up in the stand, but when it goes right, Odubajo is a joy to watch – as he has been by sev­eral Pre­mier League scouts.

MID­FIELD RO­MAIN VINCELOT – LEY­TON ORI­ENT A Du­ra­cell bunny with the tenac­ity of a warthog, the French­man was the beat­ing heart of an Ori­ent side that up­set all odds to fin­ish third.

Un­able to com­mand a place at Brighton fol­low­ing a £100,000 move from Da­gen­ham in 2011,Vincelot made the switch to Bris­bane Road in Fe­bru­ary last year and be­came an in­stant hit.

In­deed, Ori­ent’s trans­for­ma­tion from rel­e­ga­tion bat­tlers to pro­mo­tion con­tenders can be di­rectly traced to the 29-year-old’s ar­rival, which sparked a run of just three de­feats in 14 games at the back end of last sea­son.

Bustling and en­er­getic, Vincelot is a gen­uine box-to-box player who en­sures no op­po­si­tion play­maker will ever get time to put a foot on the ball. He’s also got a great touch and uses the ball in­tel­li­gently.

MID­FIELD

KEVIN MCDON­ALD – WOLVES

AF­TER the shirk­ers and mer­ce­nar­ies of re­cent years, Kenny Jack­ett ar­rived at Mo­lineux de­ter­mined to build a side of solid, un­pre­ten­tious pros the fans could iden­tify with.

And no­body summed up his quiet revo­lu­tion like Kevin McDon­ald, the Scot­tish play­maker with the teak-tough streak whose class in the mid­dle of the park has kept the golden boys rolling.

Con­verted from a free-roam­ing mav­er­ick to a mid­field quar­ter­back, the 25-year-old has em­braced the ex­tra dis­ci­pline and could now be

in line for a Scot­land call.

MID­FIELD

BAKARY SAKO – WOLVES

THE soli­tary bright spark dur­ing last sea­son’s dis­mal de­scent to League One, Sako was a wanted man last sum­mer, with Not­ting­ham For­est and Ful­ham both tabling bids in the re­gion of £3m.

But new gaffer Kenny Jack­ett stood firm and has been re­warded by an­other stel­lar sea­son from the French­man.

Quite sim­ply, Sako is too quick, too pow­er­ful and too skil­ful for the ma­jor­ity of de­fend­ers in League One. But that should come as no sur­prise – it was only 2011 when he and PSG star Blaise Ma­tu­idi were fight­ing it out for player of the year at Ligue One side St Eti­enne.

Af­ter ten goals and 14 as­sists – the most in League One – it surely won’t be long be­fore the big time beck­ons again.

FOR­WARD BRITT AS­SOM­BA­LONGA – PETER­BOR­OUGH

AT a frac­tion over £1m, it’s fair to say that a place in the team of the year was the least Peter­bor­ough ex­pected of their record sign­ing.

But while money may buy class, it doesn’t al­ways guar­an­tee con­fi­dence; the 21-year-old could eas­ily have crum­bled un­der the pres­sure fol­low­ing his high-pro­file sum­mer switch from Wat­ford.

In­stead, he set about prov­ing he was a snip, plun­der­ing 33 goals and ter­ri­fy­ing cen­tre­halves with his for­mi­da­ble com­bi­na­tion of hulk­ing brute strength, elec­tric pace and unerring fin­ish­ing. With­out him. Posh wouldn’t have been any­where near a play-off place.

FOR­WARD JOE GARNER – PRE­STON NORTH END

THERE was no short­age of con­tenders for the fi­nal strik­ing berth. Cal­lum Wil­son scored 21 goals in just 37 games for a strug­gling Coven­try side, his fear­some pace too much for de­fend­ers to han­dle. Sam Bal­dock re­minded ev­ery­one of his class with 23 for Bris­tol City and Kieran Agard ploughed Rother­ham’s path to the play-offs.

But by dint of sheer re­lent­less­ness Garner gets the nod. Since the start of Novem­ber, the 26year-old has net­ted a phenom­e­nal 23 goals in 33 games, briefly launch­ing the Li­ly­whites to within touch­ing dis­tance of au­to­matic pro­mo­tion. And, of course, there was THAT goal in the play-off semis.

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