The unsung heroes (Part 2)
MAY 17 — The English Premier League season came to an end on Sunday and new heroes and legends were born with the breathtaking climax in the match played at the Etihad Stadium.
Nothing can take away the joy of victory that literally came from within seconds of the agony of defeat for Manchester City. And I am glad to note that my pick for City in The unsung heroes (Part 1) last week, Pablo Zabaleta, scored the crucial first goal for the Blues in the first half of their ultimate title-decider.
So, with the season out of the way now — and as we await the Champions League final this Saturday as the one remaining match involving an English team — let me complete that list of unsung heroes in the EPL for season 2011/12.
The Canaries are safely through to another season of Premiership football and credit to them for they have utilised their squad to the maximum. There are regular changes to the team but this does not seem to affect the pattern of play.
So, there have been heroes aplenty but quite perhaps goalkeeper John Ruddy does not get the headlines he deserves. He has been steadily consistent and is surely the unsung hero at Norwich City.
Hopefully, England manager Roy Hodgson will give Ruddy a role in the national squad … if not in Euro 2012, then at least post-Euro, for the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign. He deserves it.
QUEEN’S PARK RANGERS
Over at Loftus Road, it has to be the steadying influence of midfielder Shaun Derry who gets him picked in every game. The antics of Manchester United’s Ashley Young aside, Derry has been a mainstay and this was recognised by Mark Hughes. He gets on with the job no matter who is partnering him in central midfield. He adapts without sacrificing his own ability.
There is only one requirement when you play for Stoke City and that is to fight, fight and fight. Yes, I know that counts as three but indeed there is a demand of a high work ethic in the team, and this season striker Jonathan Walters has typified that.
There is work-rate and there are goals, and though Tony Pulis is happy even when Irishman Walters is not scoring, he will not accept not trying.
The Black Cats transformed in a very big way under Martin O’Neill and the players became better players through hard work and determination. This is best typified by young English lad Jack Colback, who, despite the lack of experience, has the intelligence to adapt to playing different roles and positions.
The football of Swansea has been the highlight of this season and long may it continue. While the headlines and headliners are aplenty, to me there was one very important albeit unassuming orchestrator to most of the Swans’ success this past season.
The reflexes of Michel Vorm or the goals of Gylfi Sigurdsson, with the prompting of Joe Allen, seem to grab the headlines but it is Englishman Leon Britton who influences the brand of football more associated with Barcelona.
While Harry Redknapp awaits the call (that will never come) from the English FA, it has been Brad Friedel saving his bacon by making the crucial saves to keep the Spurs from losing games by bigger margins. The wheels fell off a long time ago for Tottering Tottenham and, but for the American Friedel’s form, it could have been much worse.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Gareth McCauley may not be spoken of in the same vein as Rio Ferdinand or John Terry but he is strong, safe and steady. This allowed WBA a platform to go out and play with confidence and assurance, week after week. Not to mention, it also helped to keep them in the Premiership with a respectable top 10 finish.
It is extremely difficult not to name two unsung heroes for Wigan Athletic as both James McArthur and James McCarthy have been magnificent for the Latics. The work-rate of both the Jameses has been a crucial factor in Wigan’s fight for their lives.
These two defensive midfielders would, however, easily find employment in the Premier League, especially if Stoke City needed reinforcements for Glenn Whelan and Dean Whitehead. Not the same but similar, to best describe this group of players.
The Wolves battled gamely and none more so than David Edwards, albeit in vain. However, Edwards certainly showed that he deserves to continue in the Premier League.
The Welsh international should be on the radar of any club looking for a midfielder who combines hard work with determination and under-rated technical ability.
And, finally, we have Blackburn Rovers and the man for all positions and all occasions, Jason Lowe. This young talented midfielder has done himself a favour by playing well in every position he has been asked to fill.
But come the new season, down in the Championship (if he is not picked up by a Premiership side for the new season), young Lowe will have to channel his energies by specialising in the one position to establish himself.
That position is certainly central midfield, where his reading of the game and awareness could lead to the skipper’s armband in the future for the Rovers (or any other team he might eventually move to).
Well, there you have it, my picks of the unsung heroes of EPL season 2011/12!
Next week, I will present my team of the season to follow up on the team of the first half of the season, which I had picked back in December.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.