THAT was the season that was, then... But one final assignment still needs to be taken from Yorkshire’s footballing in-tray of 2014-15 and filed. The county’s team of the year.
For the first time since 2010-11, the Broad Acres has not savoured a spring-time promotion. But stand-out seasons for a number of players has provided a modicum of consolation for some.
Three representatives, Sheffield Wednesday custodian Keiren Westwood and Middlesbrough duo George Friend and Grant Leadbitter were named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year and individual gongs are also on display on the mantlepieces of a select band of fellow White Rose footballers, feted by their clubs, team-mates and fans. Or in some cases, all three.
Below is a best county XI based on performances personally witnessed in travelling across the county in 2014-15. The formation is 4-2-3-1, if anyone is wondering.
Goalkeeper: KEIREN WESTWOOD: The Republic of Ireland keeper proved a formidable last line of defence and played a major part in the Owls’ equalling a club-record 17 clean sheets in a league season in a high-class 2014-15.
An fine shot-stopper, who also does the basics well and communicates with his back-line .
Right-back: SAM BYRAM. For Byram, 2014-15 was a season of renaissance after a difficult injury-hit previous year which had followed a breakthrough 2012-13.
Whether it be at right back or on the right-hand side of midfield, Byram was back to his zestful best, with it not surprising that his name is back on the radar of Premier League clubs.
Left-back: GEORGE FRIEND: Quite simply, the former Doncaster Rovers full-back was a Riverside relevation in 2014-15.
The epitome of consistency, Friend’s attacking instincts forged a potent weapon for Boro down the left and his whole-hearted defending and pride at wearing tbe Boro shirt has marked him down as one of the most popular players’ on Teesside in recent years. Might be tough to keep him, mind..
Central defence: RORY McARDLE. Committed and commanding in the air and on the deck, McArdle can reflect on an outstanding season, which ended in a plethora of trophies at Bradford City’s awards night.
A redoubtable old-school defender who is part of the furniture at Valley Parade and a nice lad too.
Central defence: TOM LEES. The ex-Leeds United defender was ripe for a move last summer and how he has embraced his new surroundings.
Lees has proved the main man in a parsiminous Owls backline, with it easy to forget that he only joined 12 months ago. An unflustered defender, who is strong, quick and reads the game well.
Defensive midfielder: RICHIE SMALLWOOD. The ‘Dormanstown Destroyer’ arrived on a full-time basis last August with a bit to prove at Championship level.
Not so now, with Smallwood enjoying a thoroughly consistent campaign. Doesn’t catch the eye with raking passes and sublime pieces of skill, but his work-rate is exhaustive, with the 24-year-old probably the first name on the Rotherham United team sheet. Every team needs a Smallwood.
Defensive midfielder: LEWIS COOK. Did not look back after his debut at the age of 17 in the cauldron of the New Den on August 9.
United are blessed with some talented young players, but Cook is seen as the jewel in the crown. Has the lot; composure and maturity beyond his years, close control and the ability to pick a pass.
His performance in the home win over champions Bournemouth on January 20 was one of the stand-out personal displays of the campaign across Yorkshire.
Right-sided attacking midfielder: SEAN SCANNELL. On the verge of moving to Millwall in late August, Scannell has been a player transformed under fellow Londoner Chris Powell. His appetite has been a joy to behold and he has not given defences a moments’ peace. Like Lees, someone who is enjoying his football again. Settled and reaping the rewards.
Central attacking midfielder: CONOR HOURIHANE The £200,000 fee that ex-boss Danny Wilson paid Plymouth for his services represents money well spent and an investment. Equipped with set-piece proficiency and a predatory eye for goal, Hourihane’s contributions, particularly in the first half of the campaign, lit up proceedings for a side in transition in Barnsley.
Left-sided attacking midfielder: JAMIE MURPHY: While the Blades’ campaign ended in disappointment, the Scot’s contribution could not he faulted when he was their ‘go-to’ man in an attacking sense, more often than not. Twelve goals last term and a scorer and creator, to boot.
Centre forward: PATRICK BAMFORD. Ok, not technically a Boro player, but the loanee’s claims were impossible to ignore. Hit 19 goals and someone blessed with a silky touch and movement to match his finishing ability, Bamford is now likely to be tested in the Premier League, with Chelsea expected to loan him out to a top-flight side next term.
Substitutes: Grant Leadbitter (Boro), Andrew Robertson (Hull City), Keith Lowe (York), Jacob Butterfield (Huddersfield Town), Albert Adomah (Boro), Alex Mowatt (Leeds), Nathan Tyson (Doncaster Rovers).
Manager of the year: AITOR KARANKA. The season may have ended in dispiriting fashion for the Spaniard, by way of a Championship play-off final loss at Wembley, but he has helped put Boro back on the footballing map.
It is easy to forget when he arrived 18 months ago that the Teessiders were much closer to the bottom three than the play-offs.
Mentions in dispatches also to Millers chief Steve Evans for his successful safety mission and Huddersfield rival Chris Powell, who steaded the Town ship.