THAT was the season that was, but one final assignment still needs to be taken from Yorkshire’s footballing in-tray for 2014-15 and dealt with before placing in the out-tray: 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 outstanding seasons for a number of players has provided a modicum of consolation.
Three representatives, Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper 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 I have witnessed travelling across the county in 2014-15. The formation is 4-2-3-1.
Goalkeeper: Keiren Westwood
The Republic of Ireland man 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. A fine shot-stopper who also does the basics well and communicates with his back-line .
Right-back: Sam Byram
2014-15 was a season of renaissance for Byram after an injury-hit year which had followed his breakthrough in 2012-13.
Whether at right-back or right-hand side of midfield, Byram was back to his zestful best. It is not surprising his name is back on Premier League club radars.
Left-back: George Friend
The former Doncaster Rovers full-back was a Riverside revelation 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 have 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. Has proved the main man in a parsiminous Owls backline; it is 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 consistent campaign. Does not catch the eye with raking passes or 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 such a player.
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 moment’s 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 then 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.
Left-sided attacking midfielder: Jamie Murphy
While the Blades’ campaign ended in disappointment, the Scot’s contribution could not be faulted. 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
Okay, not technically a Boro player, but the loanee hit 19 goals. Blessed with a silky touch and movement to match his finishing ability, Bamford is likely to be tested in the Premier League, with Chelsea expected to loan him out to a top-flight side.
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: Aitor Karanka
The season ended in dispiriting fashion by way of a Championship play-off final loss at Wembley, but he has helped put Boro back on the footballing map.
When he arrived 18 months ago the Teessiders were much closer to the bottom three than the play-offs.
Mentions too for Millers chief Steve Evans for his successful safety mission and Chris Powell, who steaded Huddersfield’s ship.