THE SCOUTS HAVE THESE GEMS FROM BEEN WATCHING LOWER LEAGUE
SEASON AND PICKS HIS TEAM OF LEAGUE TWO
USUALLY, a player of the year award will raise hackles and spark debate. Nobody ever agrees on these things. Except this year, when almost every manager and every player nominated Chesterfield’s Gary Roberts, the Spireites playmaker whose skills have bewitched every defender in League Two.
That’s why the former Ipswich and Huddersfield man forms the centrepiece of my League Two team of the year. Mind you, every maestro needs an orchestra and Roberts is ably aided by a stellar supporting cast.
SAM SLOCOMBE - SCUNTHORPE ONLY York kept more clean sheets than Scunny this season and that was in no small part down to the heroics of long-serving stopper Sam Slocombe.
No Iron fan will forget his remarkable stops against Torquay and Portsmouth and nor will boss Russ Wilcox, whose unbeaten 28-game run en route to promotion owed much to his keeper’s fortitude.
Commanding, assured and the best shottopper in the division, Slocombe has certainly proved value for money since his £3,000 transfer from Bottesford Town in 2008.
RYAN LEONARD - SOUTHEND Technically a midfielder, Leonard started his Southend career at right-back and has filled in plenty of times since so I’m shoehorning him in.
Why? Because the 21-year-old has been instrumental in earning Phil Brown’s boys a place in the play-offs.
Once gangly and awkward, Leonard has grown into his 6ft 1ins frame to become a marauding powerhouse capabale of dominating any game.
“He’s over six foot tall, he’s strong, powerful, quick and can certainly strike a ball as well,” said Brown. “I think he’s only just starting to realise what he’s got in his locker.”
IAN EVATT – CHESTERFIELD The bedrock of Chesterfield’s promotion campaign was playing in the Premier League with Blackpool three years ago, so it should come as no surprise that he took League two at a canter.
Uncompromising at the back but deft on the deck, the 32-year-old was tailor-made for boss Paul Cook’s attractive style of play and excelled back at the club where he started his career more than a decade ago. What’s more, after a year out through injury, he looked like he’d never missed a kick.
“People forget he was out for that long,” said boss Paul Cook.“But that’s testament to Ian. He’s a great captain and we’re lucky to have him.”
JOHN MCCOMBE - YORK CITY OK, so he only played half a season. But when that half a season involves conceding just three goals in 16 games, setting a new club record for clean sheets (22) and turning your new employers from relegation battlers to promotion contenders, it merits recognition.
When McCombe – mystifyingly released by Mansfield – joined York in January they were 20th in League Two and separated from the bottom three only by goal difference.
They eventually finished seventh with McCombe and fellow new recruit Keith Lowe forming an inviincible partnership that didn’t concede a goal from open play in 23 hours.What were the Stags thinking?
MICHAEL ROSE – ROCHDALE ON returning to Rochdale in January last year, one of Keith Hill’s very first moves was to sign Rose, the veteran full-back who started on the books at Man United.
Incredibly, he was the only person to take an interest following the 31-year-old’s release by Colchester – and how his rivals must rue that oversight now.
After a decade slogging round the lower leagues with the likes of Hereford,Yeovil, Stockport, Swindon and Colchester, Rose has provided vital ballast to Hill’s young side, his nous and experience vital in the tense closing weeks as well as a wonderful left foot.
The kind of player who is always in the right place at the right time, the Dale skipper has been a massive hit at Spotland.
JIMMY RYAN – CHESTERFIELD EVERY team needs a selfless grafter to hold things together and unsung hero Ryan was undoubtedly that man for the Spireites.
Tigerish and tireless, only keeper Tommy Lee made more appearances for Chesterfield this term, an indication of the former Liverpool trainee’s importance to Paul Cook.
Signed from Scunthorpe in the summer, Ryan is a class act at this level and won a place in the League Two team of the year whilst at Accrington in 2010. The 25-year-old didn’t quite make the cut this time, but he gets a place in my XI.
MIDFIELD ANTONI SARCEVIC – FLEETWOOD REJECTED by first Man City and then Crewe, Sarcevic was forced to kick-start his career with Chester, all the way down in the Northern Premier League.
For a young kid with extravagant talent but little in the way of toughness, it could have been a death knell, but the 22-yearold excelled.
Consecutive promotions to the Conference were capped by a stunning return of 17 goals in 47 games last season, all from midfield.
And when Fleetwood came calling last summer, Sarcevic wasn’t about to let another big chance slip through his fingers, netting 14 goals to win a place in the team of the year.
KEVAN HURST – SOUTHEND THERE are certainly more spectacular wingers than the Shrimpers’ stalwart, who this season passed 100 appearances for the club. But it would be hard to argue that any are more effective.
In short, Hurst is a striker’s dream, a crossing machine and dead-ball expert who invariably finds a man. Just as he did last season, the 28year-old finished the campaign with more assists than any other player in the division, a mammoth 13.
Most impressive of all, though, the former Sheffield United and Chesterfield man was also Southend’s top scorer with 12 for the campaign. If only they could have Hurst picking out Hurst!
MIDFIELD GARY ROBERTS – CHESTER
FIELD BACK in December, I sent a text to a handful of managers asking who was the best opposition player they’d faced. Without exception, every League Two boss said Gary Roberts.
“Quick, skilful, far too good for this league,” said Rochdale’s Keith Hill. “Scores goals, makes goals, shouldn’t be anywhere near League Two,” added Chris Wilder, then still at Oxford. And so it went on, with a few comments about Chesterfield’s budget chucked in for good measure.
Like Nureyev at a school disco, the 30year-old was performing way below his station – after all, it was only 2012 when he inspired Huddersfield to promotion from League One. Now he’s got another one on his
CV, with ten goals and ten assists ensuring both the League Two title and the PFA player of the year award.
SAM WINNALL – SCUNTHORPE KENNY Jackett hasn’t got much wrong this season, but the Wolves boss might have dropped a clanger by allowing local boy Winnall to leave the club last July.
Though, in fairness, it’s no surprise he was shown the door, with thirty-three appearances and nine goals in two years hardly indicative of a future star. But sometimes a club and a player just click. So it was with Winnall and Scunthorpe, who have simply sat back and watched as their summer freebie plundered 23 goals in just 42 games, firing the Iron back to the third tier.
Short, nippy and deadly in the box, the 23year-old is now a target for pretty much every club in League One.
SCOTT HOGAN – ROCHDALE RELEASED by Keith Hill during his first spell at Dale in 2010, Hogan was none too fussed about football, living it large in Manchester and playing part-time for the likes of Woodley, Halifax and Stockbridge Steels before pitching up at Hyde last season.
But Hill never forgot the speedy young tearaway and in the summer offered the 22-year-old another shot. Like Sarcevic, it represented a big jump. And, like the Fleetwood man, he made it look easy.
Seventeen goals – including two hat-tricks – powered Rochdale to promotion, prompting Hill to suggest his young striker could play in the Premier League.
“He’s got a really bright future and he’s destined to play at a very high level,” said Hill. “He’s got power, terrific pace, he’s got technique. And he’s got something that’s uncoachable – that natural instinct in front of goal.”