By Alex Scott
Welcome to the fourth-annual Width of a Post Player of the Year Extravaganza! Another successful season complete, another cup run to capture the imagination of the country in the books, another year without James Meredith getting a song, it’s been a big year for most of us.
From the heady days of Jason Kennedy and the diamond, through to Jon Stead morphing into Robert Lewandowski for an afternoon, and wrapping up with “The Four Year Plan: Reloaded”, we’ve a lot of ground to cover, and what better way to do this than through handing out some arbitrary awards?
Before we crack the top five, here’s the academy of intrepid Width of a Post writers to whom you can direct all of your complaints and/or praise as the countdown begins: Phil Abbott, Andrew Baxter, Mark Danylczuk, Ian Hemmens, Mike Holdsworth, Mahesh Johal, David Lawrence, Luke Lockwood, Jason McKeown, James Pieslak, Tim Roche, Alex Scott, Mark Scully, Ian Sheard, Gareth Walker, Katie Whyatt, Kieran Wilkinson, Damien Wilkinson and Nick Beanland.
Ten players in all received top five votes in our ballot, and finally before we launch our countdown with our 5th place finisher, a quick nod to some honourable mentions who just missed out on the list.
Honourable Mention 1: Billy Knott
Whilst just missing out on breaking our top five, this season will surely go down as a success for the midfielder. What’s more, if we had voted on a ‘Young Player of the Year’, he would clearly have won; and only partially assisted by the fact he is pretty much the only millennial in the squad. More importantly, he did this. Most years, doing “that” against “them” would guarantee a top three finish in this award.
Honourable Mention 2: Andy Halliday
Honourable Mention 3: Billy Clarke
If the season lasted a month longer, I wonder if Clarke would have scraped onto the bottom of this list, alas he was just edged out for the fifth and final spot. Six goals in his last ten, and eleven in his last twenty league performances have seen him solidify his role in the squad heading into the off-season. Also, scoring the goal of the season never looks bad on someone’s resume.
5th place: Jon Stead
After a partially-successful loan spell at the club at the end of last season, where the Huddersfield man helped steady the ship through until May, Jon Stead seemed somewhat back in favour down HD1 to begin 2014/15. Something he’d been waiting many years to rediscover. Unfortunately – depending on your outlook – no sooner had the season started was his manager promptly sacked and Stead was subsequently replaced by the ghost of Grant Holt.
Little did Stead know that Phil Parkinson was suffering from an “overhyped, overpaid centre forward who used to be good in 2008” problem of his very own, and Stead quickly transformed from victim to cure. And don’t worry, I’ll shut up and talk about the Chelsea game in a minute.
He arrived to find a City team in a similar bind to the one he arrived at six months before. It is easy to forget that after the heady days of this – any excuse – City were rocking in early November. Only four points off the drop, on a run of one point out of five league games, and losing on TV at The Shay. Then Jon Stead did this, and the season turned.
I love that goal. The calmness of that first touch personifies Stead’s abilities better than 700 words from me ever could. From that point, everything turned.
After this goal, City went on a run of nine wins and three draws in their next 14 games, led by six goals from Stead, culminating in that win at Stamford Bridge. I’m obviously not in the best position to comment on the historical placing of individual performances, but I can’t really believe there have been many better in a City shirt than Stead’s performance that afternoon in January.
From start to finish that day, he was the difference for Parkinson’s men. Even in the context of an incredible away performance from City, Stead was the one player who bridged the gap to, and at times beyond, the Premier League opponents. Playing as a lone centre forward up against England’s Gary Cahill, the game seemed to revolve around Stead and his hold up play.
His performance also briefly opened the window through to an alternative universe where he did reach his full potential. In his performance at Stamford Bridge, you can see the version of Stead that managed to put it all together into a Kevin Davies-esque career that has eluded him in reality. Talent has never been his problem, and in this game he showed exactly that.
Firstly, I mean, come on. To score this goal, against Petr Cech, at Stamford Bridge, in a moment as important as that? That just doesn’t happen, let alone for League One centre forwards. After a couple of early chances, City had regressed as an attacking threat, and with the prospect of going into half time 2-0 down and surely a defeat to follow, they needed something out of nothing.
Stead is alone in the squad with the pedigree to conjure something like that in that context. The touch and the shimmy to buy the yard of space he needed from “World Cup Semi-Finalist” Ramires really were both Premier League class.
His incredible game was encapsulated by the assist for the third. Collecting the ball with his back to goal, he held off Cahill freeing up the space, before setting up Halliday for his moment in the sun. There won’t be many better examples of hold up play this season.
And of course, this is all leading up to pretty much the moment of the season, the calmness and composure from the goal at The Shay was back on show as the world stood still for a moment for all but Stead as he blew the lid off one of the greatest performances in the history of the club.
In spite of slowing down as the season came to a close, Jon Stead has put in an excellent season’s work at Valley Parade, with his most prolific goal return since 2009. Beyond the statistics and the minutia of a long season, Stead was the beacon of one of the club’s greatest ever triumphs, scoring in each of the first five rounds of the FA Cup. His extra bit of talent helped push the team over the edge, briefly touching greatness, and his performances throughout the year helped ensure his placing here.
Tomorrow we will be back with the players placing 3rd and 4th in our voting as the countdown of the Width of a Post Player of the Year continues.