HEROES, VILLAINS AND THE ONES WHO SUR­PRISED US

Dunlavy un­veils his EFL al­ter­na­tive roll of hon­our for sea­son 2016-17

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - Chris

AN­THONY Knock­aert was a de­served win­ner of the Cham­pi­onship player of the year. Billy Sharp and John Mar­quis earned their gongs, too.

But, for all the plau­dits handed out at the Park Lane Hil­ton last month, there were many other – of­ten du­bi­ous – achieve­ments that went un­recog­nised.

So, in the in­ter­ests of re­dress­ing the bal­ance, here are the al­ter­na­tive awards for the 2016-17 sea­son: FLP’s COME­BACK OF THE YEAR: JAMES VAUGHAN Sev­ered ar­ter­ies. Three knee op­er­a­tions. Torn mus­cles. And that was just in his teens. Since Vaughan made his Ever­ton bow at the age of 16, his body has been bat­tered like the heavy bag at An­thony Joshua’s gym.

So much, in fact, that the 28-year-old striker had scored just 42 ca­reer goals by the end of the 2015-16 cam­paign, an av­er­age of four per sea­son.

Ditched by Birm­ing­ham in Au­gust, a move to Bury ap­peared to sig­nal the be­gin­ning of the end. In fact, it proved an un­ex­pected new dawn.

Vaughan has struck 24 times (that’s a third of his life­time to­tal) for the League One strug­glers, al­most sin­gle­hand­edly keep­ing them in the divi­sion.

“We are go­ing to have to keep him un­der lock and key,” joked Shak­ers boss Lee Clark. “He can come and stay with me over the sum­mer, bring his fam­ily. It’s go­ing to be one hell of a fight to keep him.” BEST EX­CUSE: DEREK ADAMS Ply­mouth boss Adams is a past-master at finding bizarre ex­pla­na­tions for de­feat. When a slip from de­fender Peter Hart­ley gifted Cam­bridge vic­tory over the Pil­grims last sea­son, the Scot blamed al­gae on the pitch.

Not to be out­done this cam­paign, Adams re­acted to three straight mid­week de­feats by sug­gest­ing Ar­gyle’s fa­mous strip was “too green”.

“The green on green with the pitch, and with the seat­ing as well, does blend in,” he said. “It is an is­sue.”

Al­beit not one that both­ered Ply­mouth for the pre­vi­ous 131 years. MOST DELUDED CHAIR­MAN: GARY COXALL Com­pe­ti­tion was fierce in this cat­e­gory. Francesco Bec­chetti, the Leyton Ori­ent chair­man, staked a se­ri­ous claim with the as­ser­tion that dread­ful re­sults were due to play­ers pin­ing for his pres­ence dur­ing busi­ness trips to Italy.

“Mr Bec­chetti has a great charisma and the play­ers def­i­nitely feel his ab­sence,” said CEO Alessan­dro An­ge­lieri, the sniv­el­ling Smithers to Bec­chetti’s Mr Burns. “It has had a neg­a­tive im­pact on the squad.”

But the gong must go to Gary Coxall, the de­part­ing chair­man of Hartle­pool United, who de­scribed the ap­point­ment of Dave Jones in Jan­uary as “no risk” be­fore con­fi­dently pre­dict­ing pro­mo­tion to League One. Five months later, Pools are in the Na­tional League. BEST AM­A­TEUR DE­TEC­TIVE: STEVE BRUCE Ev­ery­one pulls a “dog ate my home­work” style ex­cuse now and then. Af­ter all, it’s not like your teacher is go­ing to check the ev­i­dence, right?

Wrong. Big Steve has penned two mur­der mys­tery nov­els, both fea­tur­ing the foot­ball man­ager-turned-deathde­fy­ing sleuth ‘Steve Barnes’.

Highlight: “The gun was level with my belly. There was no doubt I was go­ing to die. And not even in New­cas­tle. Not even Pre­mier League. In Hal­i­fax, of all places, with a club in the third divi­sion.”

Grip­ping stuff. So, when As­ton Villa’s star striker Ross McCor­mack called to say he couldn’t make train­ing be­cause his elec­tric gates were stuck, fact aped fic­tion.

Bruce donned his deer­stalker, drove to McCor­mack’s house, pho­tographed the of­fend­ing 4ft 6in bar­rier and reached a de­fin­i­tive con­clu­sion. The Scot could have climbed over. “It’s not ac­cept­able,” said Barnes (sorry, Bruce). BEST SIGN­ING: JACK­SON IRVINE Three hun­dred grand wouldn’t buy you a fin­ger­nail in the Cham­pi­onship these days, yet that’s what Bur­ton Al­bion paid Ross County for Jack­son Irvine last sum­mer.

In re­turn, the Brewers got ten goals – a fifth of their to­tal – from mid­field. Those goals played a piv­otal role in keep­ing the Brewers in the Cham­pi­onship, with boss Nigel Clough now aware that his Aussie in­ter­na­tional will be on sev­eral clubs’ sum­mer shop­ping lists.

“He’s am­bi­tious and he wants to play at the high­est level he can,” said Clough. “I think that’ll be the Pre­mier League when it hap­pens.” BIG­GEST LETDOWN: ALEKSANDAR MITROVIC The hulk­ing, £15m Serb with the ma­chine gun goal cel­e­bra­tion was sup­posed to blow the Cham­pi­onship away.

In the end, he man­aged just TEN goals this sea­son – and four of those were for Ser­bia. Hardly what you’d ex­pect from a man paid £40,000-a-week, the high­est salary in the en­tire EFL. Dwight Gayle’s suc­cess in the lone striker role has played a part in keep­ing Mitrovic benched. Yet New­cas­tle’s top scorer has missed a third of the sea­son through in­jury, and it is telling that Rafa Ben­itez has fre­quently pre­ferred Daryl Mur­phy or even Yoan Gouf­fran in his ab­sence. Even when Mitrovic has played – 29 times, in fact – he has shown all the speed, fi­nesse and aware­ness of an Aberdeen An­gus. It would be a mir­a­cle if he re­mains a Toon player beyond Au­gust.

James Vaughan Derek Adams Steve Bruce Jack­son Irvine Kenny Jacke

Gary Coxall

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