An Easter SFTW BY Simon ‘Sprout` Phillips
Hi and welcome to an Easter edition of something for the weekend. With no game last week and the season drawing to a close I thought it might be worth looking at the season we have had and sharing a few thoughts on that.
Overall our season has been a poor one and would certainly fulfil the old football cliché of a game of two halves. The season won`t have lived up to any hopes or expectations we might have had in summer, but certainly exceeded those we would have had at Christmas time. After the end of last season people were looking up, we looked like we had a manager who was ready and excited with a fair bit of experience and yet it all went horribly wrong and as bad as anything any of us have probably seen on the pitch however long we have watched The Gas. Looking back, I know people will have their own thoughts on Mark McGhee and what went wrong, but personally I find it hard to have any idea or theory as to why things seemed to just completely fall apart. The reason I find it hard possibly is because Mark McGhee wasn`t dislikeable, he always seemed to talk well and to talk positively and sometimes perhaps it is easy to point fingers and have reasons if there is something you can easily disagree with or not like. All I can say is things were going down the pan and a change had to happen.
Since the return of John Ward, we have barely looked back and even with the odd defeat we just kept on plugging away and with a couple of additions and an exponential improvement in those who were at the club have just been a completely different team in terms of application, effort and ability. We haven`t been Brazil 1970 or anything, but we might as well be from where we came from and looking dead and buried. I have said previously that I don`t want to get my hopes up for next season as the first half of this season has shown that whatever we think now might be different in 6 or 7 months time. What I would say is that if we keep hold of certain players, I don`t think we will be worrying about relegation around Christmas time even if we aren`t pushing at the top end of the table.
With the season also drawing towards a close it`s time to start looking at Player and Young Player of the Year and such like, although probably in the case of our season it is more like Player of the Half-Year
When I thought about Young Player of the Year this past week. I thought instantly that Ellis Harrison will probably win this hands down. Despite his few games, he has been a bright spark and has instantly caught the eye, wasn`t involved in the forgettable first part of the season, and like me, people would write his name down without hesitation.
However before you do actually stop and think about the other candidates (and I assume these all qualify), Eliot Richards, Tom Parkes, Ollie Norburn, Seanan Clucas, Lee Brown, Ryan Brunt and you start to see that we have had quite a few young players play games this season for a number of reasons. Yes some of these were involved in the first part of the season. Eliot Richards looked like he may not show his potential and ability enough, Tom Parkes was as poor as anyone when he made his permanent signing, but since the arrival of John Ward and a clean slate they have all shown what they are capable of. Eliot has shown (in my mind) a better work, ethic, Lee Brown was found in the changing room and Tom Parkes seems to have matured into a good leader. All things said my pick will be Ryan Brunt. When he signed, I think most of us were thinking he was one for the future or an accompaniment to a more experienced striker who was going to come in, but he has become our leading man, shown size, strength and goals since joining, and I think John Ward said it best when he said that even though he is 19, he plays like he is 29.
When you realise how many younger players we have used and how prominent they have been, it makes Player of the Year a tough of ask when you throw in a few older heads. When the season started and we weren`t so good it looked like David Clarkson would probably win it hands down as a shining light in a poor team, but since our rejuvenation under John Ward, he has certainly been eclipsed by others. I think you could make a case based on the second half of the season for players like Michael Smith, Steve Mildenhall, and John-Joe O`Toole alongside any of the younger options, but my pick has to be Mark McChrystal. Since coming in has gone about his business effectively and efficiently and looked like the guy who has been at the heart of our defence for years. He seems to bring a reassurance to those around him and I believe it has helped Tom Parkes improve immensely and helping him turn into the captain and leader we can all hope he can be at Bristol Rovers, perhaps as we march up the divisions.
I think that is enough from me this week, apart from to say I hope you all have a great Easter Weekend and as many of you as possible can get down to The Mem on Saturday
Simon ‘Sprout` Phillips