WILL there be a new name on the Hargreaves Memorial Trophy this season?
That’s a decision to be made by Town fans as they contemplate who should be the club’s Player of the Year in this centenary season.
And with 13 permanent signings – plus a handful of loans – arriving at the club thanks to the extra financial strength provided by chairman-elect Dean Hoyle for the 2008-09 campaign, there are plenty of options to consider.
Several players who were already on the books have also established themselves under the management of Stan Ternent, Gerry Murphy and Lee Clark as the campaign has unfolded and they, too, are sure to attract plenty of interest.
Voting is now open to supporters and, as is the nature in a season which has had plenty of ups and downs, the selection process will be interesting.
Is there a stand-out performer who has distinguished himself in the vast majority of games?
Or will fans opt for someone who has been more consistent than anyone else in a League I campaign when performances and results have been dogged by inconsistency?
Of the players drafted in for a first season at the Galpharm, several have made notable contributions and – in no particular order (as the saying goes) – it’s worth sifting through some of the contenders.
At the back, Andy Butler is sure to come into the frame.
The 25-year-old centre-back already has one championship medal from this division under his belt with Scunthorpe and he’s keen to get back up to the next level.
Solid and reliable, he has formed a decent partnership with Nathan Clarke and the two of them have kept out competition like Chris Lucketti, David Unsworth, Tom Clarke and Shane Killock, who has now signed for Oxford United.
Butler’s reading of the game has at times enabled him to shine, he’s strong in the air and aggressive in the tackle and his 35 starts in all competitions are testimony to his value at the heart of defence.
In midfield, it will be a surprise if Jim Goodwin doesn’t get a fair share of the votes, even though his 10 bookings collected through the campaign have led to him losing his place in the side in the last few matches.
The 27-year-old former Celtic, Scunthorpe and Stockport player brought his Republic of Ireland international experience to bear when filling in at right-back in the early part of the campaign, but it’s in a midfield anchor role where he has really caught the eye.
His ability to break up play and distribute the ball well has been part of the backbone of the team in more than 30 starts, and he has impressed enough to keep former skipper Jon Worthington out of the side to the extent the No8 has gone on extended loan to Yeovil.
Alongside him, Michael Flynn got some valuable goals in the first half of the season before being allowed out on loan, returning to figure in Clark’s squad in recent weeks, while Ian Craney has done a sound job both as a starter and a sub (he’s been on the bench pretty much since the turn of the year before returning to the starting line-up for the last three matches). His six goals have also helped offset smaller numbers from the strikers.
Leading scorer Gary Roberts is sure to attract plenty of interest from fans for his enterprising, attacking style of play and his ability to provide assists with free-kicks and corners.
His 10 goals could easily have been more as he has pulverised some defences from a roving position between the midfield and strikers and he’s got that unpredictable element which makes him such a menace to opposition back lines.
Roberts – a pre-season arrival from Ipswich – was an ever-present, too, until his sending-off at Leicester which cost him a three-match ban, so he has certainly put in the minutes.
Since the transfer window, Anthony Pilkington has made a very favourable impression playing wide, but he’s not had the games to press for Player of the Year.
While Town’s play-off hopes have been severely hit by a run of six matches without a win, and today’s opponents Cheltenham have had morale-boosting wins against Hartlepool and Tranmere this week – some of the Galpharm’s established favourites are sure to come towards the top of the vote.
Award holder Andy Holdsworth has again been consistent in the right-back slot and will have his backers to retain the trophy, especially as he has been captaining the team with poise and determination.
His opposite number, Robbie Williams, has also settled down to play well having finally gained a regular starting place at left-back, holding off competition from Academy product Joe Skarz and new arrival Domink Werling.
Nathan Clarke, another previous winner of the award, has also had a solid season, showing his bravery and quality on a regular basis and he’ll be desperate to return from injury as quickly as possible to regain his place in the side.
In midfield, Michael Collins has had a memorable 2008-09, although he would swap some of the better moments – like his winning goals against Leeds, Peterborough and Brighton – for Town to be firmly among the top six play-off challengers.
The former Republic of Ireland Under 21 cap, another to have come through the Academy, will get some serious backing, as will the youngest member of the first-team line-up, Alex Smithies.
The England Under 19 keeper has forced his way ahead of the injured Matt Glennon and has also signed a new contract to 2013, time during which he’ll aim to build on an impressive start at Coca-Cola League level.
Should Smithies lift the award, he would be among the youngest to do so, and it’s a shame that Andy Booth hasn’t been able to play enough matches to make his challenge to become one of the oldest, at 35, especially as his recent form has proved what a terrific professional he is.
Voting slips are available at all Town outlets, will be published in the programme (starting today) and can be downloaded from the club website.