A JOURNEY that began in Wigan on an August afternoon that underlined why Jos Luhukay was not the right fit for Sheffield Wednesday came to an end amid a contrasting mix of devastation and pride for Doncaster Rovers at The Valley.
In between, there was a little bit of everything for yours truly to cover in a season for Yorkshire football that brought two promotions, three relegations and a host of enthralling sub-plots.
‘Spygate’ generated the most headlines, both within the White Rose county and beyond. It also gifted us in the media, via a quite extraordinary 70-minute press briefing, a compelling insight into the thinking of the man dubbed ‘El Loco’ by some and ‘God’ by the good folk of Leeds.
Marcelo Bielsa, however, is not this column’s manager of the year. Instead, Chris Wilder gets the nod after leading Sheffield United into the Premier League. That he did so to the backdrop of two warring co-owners and on a budget that was dwarfed by the likes of Stoke City, West Brom and Aston Villa makes his achievement even more remarkable.
As for the rest of the highs and lows from the 2018-19 football season, here are a few personal choices based on the 101 games I covered for The Yorkshire Post this season.
‘Best game’ is a tough one. There have been some crackers, including a couple at Villa Park. Leeds United’s stirring fightback to triumph 3-2 with what was effectively the last kick of the game will live long in the memory.
As will Sheffield United’s visit a couple of months later, as Villa hit back from three goals down with just eight minutes remaining to grab a point.
There was a little bit of everything for yours truly to cover in a season for Yorkshire football that brought two promotions, three relegations and a host of enthralling sub-plots.Richard Sutcliffe
Having to effectively rip up what was an 800-word eulogy to Billy Sharp, scorer of a hat-trick that night, and start again a match report that to be filed within 10 minutes of the final whistle means any future wanders down memory lane are likely to be accompanied by a cold sweat.
The swift re-write was not made any easier by the daggers being pointed in my direction by Kevin Cookson, the Blades media manager. Having previously watched nine United games without seeing Wilder’s men win even once – quite a feat in itself during a season that ended in promotion – I had felt safe enough to lean over with 10 minutes to go and let ‘Cookie’ in on my secret.
Cue an almighty collapse that I feared could lead to a ban from Bramall Lane out of fear that the club’s push for the Premier League would be jinxed.
Neither of these thrillers at the Villa, however, are my pick for ‘best game’. Instead, it is a 4-4 draw between Bradford City and Peterborough United in the FA Cup second round that featured a mammoth 57 efforts on goal and Ivor Toney scoring for the visitors from the halfway line. City eventually went out on penalties but were still afforded a deserved standing ovation.
The flipside of such drama came when Barnsley ground out a goalless draw at home to Burton Albion in February. A frustrating night for the home fans and the standout ‘worst game’ of my season.
Picking out a ‘worst’ performance by a Yorkshire side is easier than a ‘best’. Bradford’s 4-0 surrender at home to Southend United was truly abject.
In contrast, Hull City’s six-goal demolition of Bolton Wanderers on New Year’s Day was mightily impressive, as was how Leeds started Bielsa’s reign with a 3-1 triumph over promotion favourites Stoke City on the opening weekend.
But the manner in which Huddersfield Town picked apart Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux in November was truly outstanding.
The Terriers also feature in the ‘goal of the season’ category via Karlan Grant’s strike at West Ham United but top billing goes to Adam Reach for his 30-yard thunderbolt against Leeds.
Reach managed a very similar effort a few days later against West Brom on a night when Harvey Barnes put in the ‘best opposition performance’ to kick-start a dramatic late fightback from Darren Moore’s side in a 2-2 draw.
Neither Moore nor Barnes were destined to see out a campaign that, ultimately, brought success and failure in almost equal measure to Yorkshire. It was a privilege to be along for the ride.