Written by Richard Curtis
N-Power Championship Players to look out for 2012-13 (Part 1)
Key player – Mido. The 29 year old Egypt international, has amassed 51 caps and scored 20 goals for his country, joined Barnsley in May 2012 from Egyptian club Zamalek on a free-transfer. The much travelled striker has previously played for Ajax, Marseille, Roma, Tottenham Hotspur, Middlesbrough Wigan Athletic and West Ham United and his experience and knack of finding the net should provide highly useful for a side which has struggled in the past few seasons and has been lacking in fire-power.
One to Watch-17 year old midfielder Paul Digby won the Barnsley’s most promising academy player in 2008, whilst playing the club’s under-13 side and won it again in 2011 whilst playing for the under 16’s, these achievements lead to him signing a two-year scholarship. He was brought into first-team action on 27 September 2011 in a 1–1 draw with Derby County replacing the injured David Perkins, more appearances are set to follow this season after the announcement that Barnsley’s star-midfielder Jacob Butterfield has signed for premier league side Norwich in a £3 million deal.
Key player- Curtis Davies. The former Luton Town, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Leicester City centre half now 27 has established himself in the side following his move to the club last summer, making a remarkable 48 appearances. He marked his first appearance for the club by opening the scoring in the opening game of the Championship 2011/12 season against Derby County which Birmingham went on to lose 2–1.
One to watch- following Birmingham’s decision to sell keeper Ben Foster to city rivals West Bromwich Albion it is highly possible 19 year old keeper Jack Butland could get a chance between the posts this season. Butland has represented England at all levels up to the U21 side and was called into the Euro 2012 squad this summer, he made his Football League debut in September 2011 while on loan to League Two club Cheltenham Town.
Key player – On the 25th June 2012 Blackburn confirmed the signing of 35 year old Fulham midfielder Danny Murphy on a two-year contract. The former Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Charlton Athletic and Crewe Alexandria player was part of the Liverpool side that one a cup-treble in 2001. The midfielder also has international experience having being capped by England 9 times and scored international goal in a 4-0 victory over Paraguay in April 2002. Blackburn will be hoping that Murphy’s match experience (563 games) will help the club settle to life in the Championship, whether his new side can achieve promotion back to the premier league after just one season in the division remains questionable.
One to watch-Former Spain U16, U17 and U18 striker Ruben Rochina, now 21 signed for Blackburn from Barcelona at the start of last season. Although he found opportunities limited in his first season at the club, surely he’ll see more action in the Championship this season; can he fill the void left following Yakubu’s departure?
Key Player- Matt Phillips, the 21 year old, English born Scotland International and former Wycombe Wanderers and Notts County winger has been playing professional football since the age of 17 and already has 143 appearances to his name. Last season he gained local hero status after he scored a hat-trick for Blackpool in their 3–1 victory at Barnsley and followed it up with another hat-trick two weeks later, against local rivals Fleetwood Town in the FA Cup. Phillips is also known for his assists and good link up play, particularly with his name-sake Kevin Phillips.
One to watch- The20 year old son of former England International Paul Ince, Tom Ince is commonly played in central midfield or on the left-hand side and established himself in the second half of the 2011-12 season following his brace’s in a 2–1 win over Doncaster Rovers and 3–1 away win against Bristol City. In the Championship play-off final against West Ham he scored the equaliser but Blackpool went on to lose the match 2-1. The former Liverpool and Notts County player is expected to improve further in the 2012/13 season and if he fulfils his potential could follow in the footsteps of his father and become an England international.
Key player- Kevin Davies. Despite now turning 35, Davies is the bookmakers’ favourite to be the Championships top scorer in 2012/13 season. Bolton’s talismanic captain still performs to premier league standard and became England’s oldest debutant since 1950 in the 0-0 draw against Montenegro two years ago. Davies’ has 444 premier league appearances and 106 premier league goals to his name, his experience alone surely will help Bolton propel themselves back into the promised land!
One to watch – 23 year old former France U21 international striker David N’Gog has already been through many highs and lows in his career. He was a young member of French Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain which won the Coupe de la Ligue in 2008. N’Gog’s success in the French league opened up a move to Liverpool, which sadly didn’t work out for him and led to his transfer to Bolton at the start of last season. I remember watching N’Gog play for France U21’s against England 21’s at Nottingham Forests City Ground 3 years ago when he was a Liverpool player, he scored both goals in his side’s 2-0 win against a keeper non-other than Manchester City’s Joe Hart. Can N’Gog link up with Davies and recapture former glories?
Key Player- Burnley captain, 24 year old Republic of Ireland international Chris McCann has played for the club throughout his career after emerging through the clubs youth system. He played a key role in the teams Premier League campaign in the 2009 season, however missed the vital latter stages of the season with a cruciate knee injury, arguably he came back stronger than ever and is a player who seems to improve year on year.
One to watch– 23 year old Republic of Ireland international midfielder/winger Keith Tracey is another player who seems to be improving year by year. Tracey joined Burnley in 2011 following impressive stints at fellow Lancashire clubs Blackburn Rovers, Stockport County and Preston North End and scored on his debut, in a match against Watford, Burnley fans will be expecting more goals off Tracey in the 2012/13 season to help aid the loss of goal scoring sensation Jay Rodriguez to premier league side Southampton in an £8 million deal.
Brighton & Hove Albion-
Key Player- Scottish International and former England C team striker Craig Mackail-Smith (28) joined Brighton for a club record £3.25million from fellow Championship side Peterborough United in July 2011 and got off to a great start with his first goal being the winner in the south coast derby against Portsmouth, more goals followed and many more will be expected in the 2012/13 season.
One to watch- Congolese born midfielder Kazenga Lua-Lua (21) the younger brother of former Newcastle United striking sensation Lomana Lua-Lua, joined Brighton from Newcastle in 2010/11 season, during which time the team with in League one. Lua-Lua has benefitted from Brighton’s promotion into the championship and their move to the Amex Stadium, making 16 appearances and scoring 3 goals, Brighton fans will be hoping for more in the 2011/12 campaign.
Key Player- I was surprised to find that Jon Stead is only 29, the much travelled striker has spent the vast majority of his career at championship level playing for Blackburn, Sunderland, Derby, Sheffield United, Coventry and Ipswich to name a few. Stead’s 6 goals in 16 games helped keep Bristol City in the division towards the end of the last campaign and you would think that they may be hugely reliant on him this season too.
One to Watch- James Wilson the former Wales Under-21 international central defender or right-back, now 23, emerged as a first team regular in the 2011-12 season; he’ll be expected to up his game in the new campaign as if Bristol City hope to remain in the Championship they’ll need to improve defensively.
Key Player- Choosing Peter Whittingham as Cardiff’s key player probably comes as no surprise, the central midfielder, winger or second striker, now 27 had yet another good campaign in the 2011-12 season and is still seen as the sides influential player. On the 7th March 2012 Whittingham was voted the best player outside the Premier League in FourFourTwo magazine and named in the PFA Championship team of the year. With interest in the player high Cardiff fans will be hoping he stays for the 2012-13 campaign adding to his 264 appearances and 68 goals.
One to Watch- Republic of Ireland U21 international striker Joe Mason made a name for himself last season scoring in the opening goal in the league cup final against Liverpool, however he didn’t just find form in the cup, he enjoyed an impressive debut season in the Welsh Capital scoring 12 league goals earning rave reviews, like team-mate Whittingham there is much premier league interest in the player, however Cardiff’s wealthy Malaysian owners are unlikely to cash in.
Key Player-Captain Johnnie Jackson (29) joined Charlton permanently in July 2010 and was named the N Power league 1 player of the month for November that year. In the 2011-12 League one campaign he scored 13 goals, including two direct from freekicks in crucial wins against Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. The influential player is expected to adapt well to championship football in the 2012-13 campaign.
One to Watch- Jackson’s underrated midfielder partner Danny Green (23) is also expected to adapt well to life in the championship, in his debut season with the club he made 33 appearances scoring four goals.
Key Player- Darren Ambrose, although no longer a first team regular and now more of a squad player, the 28 year old midfielder is still capable of something special and his experience is vital to what is a very young Crystal Palace side. Last November 2011, Ambrose scored a 35 yard long range shot at Old Trafford and then got an assist for Glenn Murray’s goal in Crystal Palace’s surprise 2-1 win over Manchester United in the Carling Cup Quarter Final. Former United defender Gary Neville described the strike as the best goal scored by an away side ever at Old Trafford.
One to watch- highly rated striker or winger Wilfred Zaha (19) is the latest player to emerge through Palace’s successful academy, Last season was Zaha’s break-through season. He scored two goals in a League Cup game against Crawley Town convincing manager Dougie Freedman to give him his league debut. On 21 April Zaha scored in a 2–2 draw with Reading, the game that saw Reading secure the Championship title. Zaha’s impressive performances have led to him being called up for the Great Britain football side which will compete at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Key Player –Theo Robinson. The 23 year old former Milwall and Huddersfield forward splits opinion among the Derby faithful, in my opinion he is the Championships version of Mario Balotelli, in the same 90 minutes of football he can pull of something quite brilliant only to ruin it with a moment of silliness or wastefulness. The Rams will be hugely reliant on his goals next season following the transfer listing of strike partner Steve Davies and the sale of fellow forward Chris Maguire to Sheffield Wednesday.
One to watch– Derby have a number of players who could fit into this category, with up to a third of the successful U18 side expected to play a role in the first team this season. Many are predicting England U18 winger Will Hughes to play a key role in the side following his successful debut against Peterborough on the final game of the Championship 2011-12 season.
To be continued…