With the season over and the player of the year awards dinner just a few hours away, it seems right to take a look at the candidates in with a chance of being crowned this season’s stand out performer. Whilst the number of possibly selections is smaller than last season, the whole team were in with a shout, it’s still a tough call to make from the five nominees below.
He has his critics, but more points have been won than lost at the fingertips of the flamboyant stopper with the handful of dubious displays cancelled out and then some my some match saving, and winning, performances. Wins over Leicester City both home and away had a lot to do with Hamer’s handy work whilst his displays in the 2-1 win against Ipswich at Portman Road and the 1-1 draw at home to Derby proved vital. A double save from Sone Aluko against Hull at the Valley and his final minute stop from Vincente in the trip to Brighton, both times keeping the score at 0-0, stand out as the two most impressive saves of the season. Both times you found yourself with your head in your hands expecting the net to ripple only for the gloved hands of Hamer to pull off the most unlikely of interventions. Still relatively young in keeper terms, 24, the self –proclaimed lover of cider still has plenty of time to ripen from the slightly discoloured nature of his ability into the glowing finished article. No, you’re right, that fruit metaphor doesn’t work, but Ben’s a very good keeper who’s only going to get better.
Last season’s player of the year has yet again been in sensational form from the first minute until the last. If there were any doubts about the youngster’s ability to make the step up from League One, they were quickly forgotten about as Darren Ambrose and Ben Marshall were kept under wraps in consecutive games. He’s rarely put a foot wrong since. It’s difficult to pick any stand out moments from the most consistent of consistent performers but three away displays deserve special mention. Wilfried Zaha found life so tough against him at Selhurst that the ‘wonderkid’ was forced to switch to the right, leaving Solly with Yannick Bolasie, who was quickly subbed off. Coming up against the tricky Kazenga Lualua at Brighton’s Amex, Solly took some time to adjust, put soon had him under control and played a large part in the Addicks keeping the Seagulls from scoring. Cardiff might have sealed promotion with a win at the Cardiff City Stadium, but Solly wasn’t going to allow that, preventing Bellamy time and time again and stopping an almost certain goal with a last ditch tackle when Kim was breaking. With seven assists, including an absolutely fantastic cross for Yann Kermorgant to head home against Birmingham at the Valley, and a goal, a rocket of a shot away at Blackpool that any striker would have been proud of, the diminutive full back is becoming more of a threat when going forward down the right, linking up successfully with Bradley Pritchard throughout the season. He deserves to play in the Premier League; hopefully that’s with Charlton.
On three separate occasions this season, it looked like the Addicks were about to be draw into the relegation battle. 2-0 down to Cardiff inside 20 minutes, after a run of results lacking a win and following on from a 4-1 thumping at home to Middlesbrough, 1-0 and then 3-2 down to Watford on New Year’s Day on the back of a poor set of December results and 2-0 down to Bolton at the Valley, the fixture after the humiliating 2-0 defeat to Millwall. All three, in their individual moments of peril, gave the Charlton faithful enough reasons to feel seriously concerned about their Championship survival. One man on each occasion put a stop to such nonsense: The lionhearted skipper. His two goals against Cardiff brought the sides level before half time, setting the Addicks up to complete the incredible comeback just after the break, his determined display in midfield carved out many openings for his team mates at Watford before a heroic header gave Charlton a valuable three points, whilst his goal midway through the first half gave the home side the footing they needed to comeback and secure a 3-2 victory over Bolton. He truly is the man to call upon in a crisis. It’s not, however, as if problem solver is the only job title Jackson can boast. After a sluggish start to life in the Championship, Powell’s decision to move him to the centre midfield position that Jackson has filled for most of his career prior to wearing a red shirt proved a stroke of genius. The inspirational leader has grown as the season has progressed and a foot has rarely been put wrong since the turn of the year. His performances have also brought goals, 12 of them to leave him as this season’s top scorer. I wouldn’t dream of anyone else leading this group of players on the pitch. There is no one better than Johnnie Jackson.
‘Have you seen the news?! We’ve signed Dale Stephens, Danny Hollands and Mikel Alonso! Oh and Bradley Pritchard. Yeah, me neither.’ That was the basic structure of any conversation in regards to Charlton’s early summer signings in 2011. The recruitment of two players who stood out in the previous season in League One, Stephens and Hollands, along with the brother of Xabi Alonso happened in the space of a few weeks and all excited Charlton fans for the season ahead. Bradley Pritchard, however, did not. The non-league nobody and former work experience boy with the sports science department at Sparrows Lane was seen as a complete punt. He might get the odd game, but the more likely scenario was he’ll be released and forgotten about very quickly; a disappearing act previously perfected by Stuart Fleetwood and Dean Sinclair. In fact, quite the opposite has happened. Whilst Alonso failed to make a single league appearance, Hollands has been an isolated figure this season and even Stephens has found maintaining his place in the side a challenge in the final few months of the season. Pritchard as been an almost ever present. What some might argue he lacks in technical ability he more than makes up for with his hard work and determination; no cause is a lost one to the Zimbabwean. For that alone he’s a valuable asset to the team, but with eleven assists and some fantastic performances throughout the season, Pritchard has proved himself to be more than suited to Championship football. His critics have been quit in recent weeks, only furthering my suggestions that some Charlton fans confused poor finishing with poor player. With two goals in less than a month and some impressive performances during that time, it’s a shame that the season is ending for Charlton’s most improved player under Powell.
No superlative can do justice to the Frenchman’s powers. The talismanic figure has once again led from the front with some cavalier displays to win points for the Addicks. Still winning headers for fun, still magnetically controlling the ball at his feet and notching 10 goals, in addition to 9 assists, the hero worship he receives is more than justified. Just ask Leicester City fans, who must be sick of the sight of their former player and infamous penalty misser after two incredible performances and two well taken goals against the Foxes. A forum thread full of Leicester fans begrudgingly praising Kermorgant is as big an indication as any that he’s a very special player. Some of his most extraordinary performances have come with the Frenchman dropping deeper into midfield and cutting out wide to the run the channels. Such as the ability of Kermorgant’s footwork and link up play, those two roles are almost as natural as centre forward. Often coming back to defend from corners and even banging in a penalty against Bolton at the Valley, he really is the complete player. His cult hero status was only strengthened on the final day of the season as once again the big Frenchman lit it up with two goals, one of them an incredible volley, in a fantastic performance against Bristol City. Through injury and suspension, Kermorgant has had to sit out his fair share of games, and you have to question whether his presence would have seen that short gap between the Addicks and the play-offs eaten up. It wasn’t to be, but Kermorgant will have a lot to say in an assault up the table next season.
For me, there’s only one winner: Chris Solly. He’s been consistent from kick off at St Andrews in August to the final Whistle at the Valley in May. Whilst the others have shown brilliance more often than not, they’ve not done so on anywhere near a similar regularity to Solly. Another awkward speech awaits.
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