I’d be fascinated to know how many people actually voted for Leeds United’s player-of-the-year award last season.
It was Ross McCormack’s trophy and the truth about the vote was that no other player had a prayer.
In no small part that was down to McCormack’s prolific goalscoring – and his record was excellent, let’s be fair – but the rest of the squad meant he was devoid of competition.
Perhaps if McCormack was still here and bagging 20-odd goals then he’d sweep the awards for a second time but I’m not so sure he’d walk it as easily as he did a year ago. There’s a proper contest this time around and that’s a much healthier state of affairs.
It would be wrong of me to pretend that Leeds United are nearing the end of a stellar season and anyone who’s followed the campaign knows how strained it became.
But we’re into April now and it’s fair to say that quite a few players are emerging from it with credit.
That’s encouraging from my point of view because in terms of the nuts and bolts at Elland Road, it seems that there’s more to build on this summer than there was this time last year; more lads in form and more lads showing their true potential.
Luke Murphy is a case in point. For the first time he’s started to look like the midfielder we paid a lot of money for and in his own way he’s been top quality in the second half of the season, a safe presence in amongst all the kids.
A lot of people were writing Murphy off after his initial period here but something’s clicked with him at last.
You’d assume that he’d be part of the plans for next season, and a big part too.
As for the youngsters, they’ve all been superb. The most fascinating vote is going to be the young player-of-the-year award because I honestly couldn’t call it.
All of the four – Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt, Charlie Taylor and Lewis Cook – have a good shout and I’m struggling to separate them myself.
Realistically, Sam probably won’t win it because Sam no longer seems like a young player.
He’s so good and so well established that you think of him as a proven pro. I’ve said before that of all the kids, he’s the one I most worry about losing when the transfer window opens. In my opinion he’s the one most suited to slotting immediately into a Premier League team.
Taylor’s impressed me on the left-hand side but he might suffer from the fact that he only came into the team halfway through the season.
Which leaves Cook and Mowatt.
I get the feeling that the crowd really thrive off Cook’s energy.
His running is exciting and pleasing on the eye and he’s coped in the Championship without any great problem.
But Mowatt has come up with big goals when we needed them. He’s dragged us through little periods of the season when the results were absolutely vital. I’m thinking of the Millwall and the Wigan games, two matches against sides right in the thick of the relegation fight.
In a vote between him and Cook, I’d sway towards Mowatt. But I mean this honestly when I say ‘only just’.
In truth, though, my nomination for player of the year would go to someone else. It has to be the goalkeeper, Marco Silvestri. When you look back at all the ups and downs, the points where the season ebbed and flowed, I really don’t think anyone has been more influential or more vital in terms of our survival. Mowatt’s goals were the difference in games which we won narrowly.
Some of Silvestri’s performances were the difference in games where we could easily have lost 5-0. I remember his display at Bournemouth in September when they should have been home and hosed at half-time, and also away at Middlesbrough in February. Fair enough, there’s been the odd error from him and the odd mix-up with the defence but for a foreign player in his first season in the Championship it’s very hard to fault him. It’s also hard to deny that at the age of 24 he can still get much better.
I’d say that his dominance of the six-yard box leaves a bit to be desired and that’s an area of his game he can work on but his confidence has come back after a difficult period around Christmas. Some credit for that needs to go to Neil Sullivan, our goalkeeping coach.
At the end of last season we needed a new keeper. As it is, I’d be perfectly happy for Silvestri to remain as our number one next year.
Just as I’d be very happy to stick with a midfield of Cook, Mowatt, Byram, Taylor and Murphy.
There are other little bright spots too; Mirco Antenucci with 10 goals, Sol Bamba at the back.
I don’t want to go overboard because the squad has had its problems but it would be a pleasant change if we could avoid the need for major surgery this summer.
There’s no doubt at all that in order to turn ourselves into play-off contenders, new signings are going to be necessary.
I could see four or five arriving, something like that.
But when push comes to shove, this group have done themselves credit.
It’s nice to be finishing with our tails up.