After Ross McCormack was beaten to the Championship Player of the Year award, Phil Hay picks his season’s best XI – for and against Leeds.
GOALKEEPER - KASPER SCHMEICHEL (LEICESTER CITY)
One of the few Leicester players – barring Kevin Phillips – who saw the club through a poor performance at Elland Road in January. His one-on-one save from Ross McCormack in the first half was goalkeeping at its best and his concession rate is lower than one a game. Leeds sold him for around £1million in the summer of 2011. The Danish international will be worth rather more than that now.
RIGHT-BACK – KIERAN TRIPPIER (BURNLEY)
His marauding run and cross was the turning point of last Saturday’s game between Leeds and Burnley and the 23-year-old has been doing that all season. His assists are well above any other defender in the Championship and if Burnley don’t win promotion – which they will – he ought to be a target for any Premier League side with a small or limited budget.
CENTRE-BACK – JASON SHACKELL (BURNLEY)
The central cog in the best defence in the division and extremely impressive against Leeds, both at Elland Road and Turf Moor. Burnley took a punt on him in 2012, paying £1.1million to sign Shackell from Derby County, and over time he’s shown himself to be as good and reliable a centre-back as you’ll find beneath the Premier League.
CENTRE-BACK – ALEX PEARCE (READING)
Not necessarily the outstanding Championship defender per se but a rock-solid presence against Leeds at the Madejski Stadium and immense in the last 25 minutes as United threw the kitchen sink and what remained of their season at Reading two weeks ago. Of the players at Reading who Brian McDermott might have gone back for, Pearce would have been a useful addition.
LEFT-BACK – AARON CRESSWELL (IPSWICH TOWN)
No left-back has done more damage to United than QPR’s Clint Hill – a clean sheet and a winning goal at Elland Road in August and, were it not for an offside flag, the winner at Loftus Road too. But Cresswell is a full-back in the modern mould; quick, rangey and blessed with a sweet delivery. He stood out a mile during a gritty match at Portman Road.
RIGHT WING – CRAIG BRYSON (DERBY COUNTY)
Pulled the strings skilfully against Leeds in October and was just about the star of a one-sided show, alongside Will Hughes. Bryson is one of those sought-after assets – a midfielder with assists close to double figures and more than 10 goals to his name. He’s also a reason why Derby are heading for the play-offs, despite a mediocre start.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD – JOEY BARTON (QPR)
Slate the man as much as you like but Barton is well below his weight at this level. QPR were ordinary against Leeds in the first month of the term but his passing and patience held them together long enough for Harry Redknapp’s side to pinch a 1-0 win. QPR were a point behind second place when injury began to bother Barton in January. They’re now a mile off the pace. It’s not a coincidence.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD – ANDY REID (NOTTINGHAM FOREST)
Reid is much the same as Bryson, with goals and assists coming out of his ears. Forest’s midfield killed United in Nottingham – arguably the start of Leeds’ season-ending run – and Ross McCormack called them the best side in the division after a 2-1 defeat. Reid has created more goals than any other Championship player and chipped in with 10 of his own – more than Leeds’ entire midfield combined. It’ll be no surprise if he takes Forest’s player of the year award when the votes are cast.
LEFT WING – WILL HUGHES (DERBY COUNTY)
Good enough to play just about anywhere in between Derby’s defence and their attack and named as the Football League’s young player of the year last weekend. From a distance, Hughes looks like a member of One Direction but he’s far stronger than the average 18-year-old, with reams of talent and confidence behind him. Two months younger than United’s Alex Mowatt, he has made 55 more first-team appearances – a mark of his rapid development. If prospects like Hughes didn’t cost so much, he’d have stepped up a league some time ago.
STRIKER – ROSS MCCORMACK (LEEDS UNITED)
Denied the Championship’s player of the year award, despite being statistically superior in most departments to Danny Ings. Some will argue that McCormack’s form in an under-performing team strengthened his claim. Other would say that Burnley – unfancied before the season began – would not be where they are without Ings. Either way, there’s a cigarette paper between them and McCormack’s record is the best of any striker at Leeds since Jermaine Beckford in 2009-10. It could not be said either that McCormack has spent all year nicking tap-ins in and around the six-yard box. His blinding free-kick against Charlton was the pick of the bunch and his 20-yard strike at Yeovil a close second. Player of the year at Elland Road, without any argument.
STRIKER – SAM VOKES (BURNLEY)
No Ings? Well, he missed last weekend’s game against Leeds at Turf Moor and was only as good as Vokes – Saturday’s man of the match – at Elland Road in September. Vokes has 19 goals, he’s been ever present and the way he’s thriving at Turf Moor makes you look back with bemusement at his short time with United, at the end of which he was deemed dispensable. He’s indicative of what Sean Dyche has built at Burnley: a team, rather than a mob of big, sought-after profiles.