HEROES, VILLAINS AND THE ONES WHO SURPRISED US
Dunlavy unveils his EFL alternative roll of honour for season 2016-17
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