17/18 End of the season awards

Another season (almost) over with. We can – and do – argue the merits of whether reaching the playoffs in isolation is a successful campaign, but one thing we can say for sure is how nice it is to have so many strong candidates in the Player of the Season category. From our six contributors below, five different players are voted as the #1 in the player of the season list – and we’ve heard claims offered for at least two more (Richard Duffy and Jon Stead) in addition to those five in recent days. Last season, there were only two players worthy of a shout – and there hasn’t even been that sometimes.

While Notts’ ultimate fate is still to-be decided by two/three matches, regular Gerrit Forward contributors and BBC Radio Nottingham’s matchday commentator Charlie Slater dish out their end-of-season awards after a memorable campaign…

Rob Davies @RobD97

Player of the season (top 3)

  1. Matt Tootle
  2. Jorge Grant
  3. Elliott Hewitt

Tootle just shades it for me as I feel he’s been the most consistent player in the squad and, for a full-back at this level, it’s hard to find an obvious weakness in his game. A class act who has regularly contributed at both ends of the pitch throughout the season. Grant is second because a lot of the points that gave us the good start and propelled us to the top of the division simply wouldn’t have been gained without his goals. Ignoring the imbalanced nature in which they’ve arrived, 18 goals from midfield – in his first full season as a regular at this level – is an outstanding achievement, and he’s improved the defensive side of his game too. Hewitt just pips Shaun Brisley, who in my view would’ve been right up there for the top award had he not lost his place for a couple of months recently, for third.

Most improved player

Hewitt was the fans’ winner in this category last year and he’s only improved further this campaign; the transformation from below-par right back to midfield dynamo is now complete. After a poor first season, there were few complaints when Hewitt rarely featured under John Sheridan in the first half of the last campaign and he didn’t even make the bench for the first game after Nolan signed an influx of players last January. At that point, he looked destined for the exit door – so huge credit must go to the manager for transforming the 23-year-old into the asset in which he now is to the club. In a position where we have more competition than any other (Hewitt, Milsom, O’Connor, Noble, Husin, Virtue and Walker all vying for two spots), Hewitt has established himself  as the undisputed first-choice. Arguably, he’s the one player we’ve had all season who’s notably got better since the turn of the year.

Biggest disappointment

It’s hard not to wonder ‘what might have been’ with regards to Jonathan Forte. Logically, playing two strikers in their mid-30s – neither of whom are blessed with pace – from the start throughout a long season makes little sense. Logically, playing direct football with no-one quick upfront to turn the opposition around and latch onto long balls/flick-ons makes little sense. Forte always looked the man to solve both of these problems. When supporters cried out for a quick striker in January, they forgot we already had one. Forte isn’t a world-beater by any means, but just having his pace in the team means the opposition can’t press as high up the pitch – would Mansfield’s equaliser have happened had he been on the pitch? – and provides respite in as much as making something of the long balls/clearances down the pitch which otherwise bounce back. And that’s before we even get into the numerous games that, with Ameobi injured, out-of-position winger Lewis Alessandra – a player neither as quick or as strong as Forte – was selected ahead of him.

What’s more, he knows where the net is. Nine goals is a seriously impressive return given his lack of game-time – but you wonder how many he might have ended the campaign with had he made anything like the number of starts that Stead has.

Comedy moment

The Yeovil own goal a couple of weeks ago (was also tempted to award this my goal of the season). What a cracker.

Goal of the season

Have to agree with the official award for Noor Husin’s screamer at Crewe. Honoury mentions for Grant’s free kick against Lincoln and Jon Stead’s superb winner at Brentford with his ‘weaker’ foot.

Irrespective of what happens in the playoffs, has it been a successful season?

For me, undoubtedly. Of course it’s hard to see Wycombe and Accrington – with limited budgets – leapfrog us into the automatic promotion places we’ve spent much of the campaign, but how good is it to be at this stage of the season with something (positive) still to play for? While last week’s defeat to Grimsby was hugely disappointing, the ‘pressure’ on the game didn’t have (for me) the same feeling to the horrible anxiety felt when we’ve been fighting to stay-up. Though the squad as it stands hardly smacks of long-term planning, Nolan has done an outstanding job in transforming them from one on the worst losing streak in the club’s history when he arrived to one where a playoff finish is considered (by some) to be a disappointment within 18 months. Also – this is the first season in 10 years in which we’ve started and finished with the same manager; something which is in itself reason for celebration.

Colin Sisson @Colin_sisson

Player of the season

  1. Shaun Brisley – often overlooked in favour of Duffy but he does his job effectively and efficiently. Not renowned for flash tackles but regularly puts his head in for the cause.
  2. Elliott Hewitt – Provides much needed energy and can be counted on to feature in both penalty areas. Rarely gives possession away.
  3. Jorge Grant – had it not been for a 2018 slowdown, Grant would easily be POTS. Though he hasn’t quite maintained those early season standards, his mere presence on the pitch is enough to cause teams to become extra cautious, creating space for others.

Most Improved player

Elliott Hewitt. From a player I’d have not been too disappointed to see leave, Hewitt has become one of the first names on the the teamsheet under Nolan. Turns possession over and uses the ball well.

Biggest disappointment

Mason Bennett’s loan spell cut cruelly short was a blow but nothing can quite match seeing Ryan Yates move on to Scunthorpe.

Comedy moment

Ross Fitzsimons’ playful kick against Crawley looks seriously less funny after missing out on automatic promotion by the slimmest of margins. So I’ll go for Hewitt’s little dance for Wycombe’s keeper (who deserves his own award for that kit). On a personal level, me demanding the removal of a limping Jonathan Forte just seconds before he bagged the first of two goals vs Coventry recently.

Goal of the season

Noor Husin’s strike against Crewe had enough power and precision to get even my dad on his feet. Made better by the desperate pleas of ‘shoooooot’ in the build up of what had been a pretty flat first 15mins.

Irrespective of what happens in the playoffs, would you consider the season a success?

Yes. But whatever happens is the absolute limit for this particular squad. Changes expected in 18/19.

 

Paul Smith @Psmithyjourno

Player of the season (top 3)

  1. Jorge Grant
  2. Jon Stead
  3. Matt Tootle

If this was being asked at the halfway point Jorge Grant would poll a minimum of two thirds of the vote, I’ve no doubt. He was imperious during the 2017 part of this campaign. And though his influence has waned, he is the single player who has done the most, individually, to ensure Notts could yet have the successful end to the campaign we’d like. Still our most likely player and the one who gives us the creativity and class we otherwise desperately lack. Scoring 18 goals from wide midfield is incredible. Especially with double figures in assists too. Stead deserves recognition for his non-stop tireless work and crucial goals and assists, while Tootle has been consistently impressive, particularly during the early-season run of form that pushed us to the top of the table.

Most improved player

Has to be Elliott Hewitt. I’d have favoured letting him go in the summer but he has become a player of real importance. From a right-back who couldn’t defend and flattered to deceive going forward, Hewitt is now a no-nonsense and industrial battler at the heart of all of Notts’ work. That last season’s Player of the Year Rob Milsom has struggled to feature is mostly of credit to Hewitt’s form. Can go up a level.

Biggest disappointment

Our continued lack of results against Mansfield Town. Thankfully, despite their biggest ever summer spending spree ever, we have finished above them. But those pesky swines just can’t be beaten by the men in black and white. The away game was predictably abject. We even lost in the tinpot cup for once against them. And then, finally, it looked like we had seen them off in the Meadow Lane snow only to be denied by a cruel 98th minute penalty. It’ll just never happen for us – let’s leave them behind in League Two!

Comedy moment

Adam Collin’s ‘clean sheet, shock’ finger-pointing at the Notts Facebook camera after a rare shutout in the home victory over Stevenage at the end of February. Despite what Kevin Nolan would have you believe, Notts’ play-off place is in spite of Collin, and not because of him.

Goal of the season

Noor Husin’s was a wonder strike against Crewe and a worthy winner. Especially given the need for a strong performance and victory in front of a rare sellout crowd. It was as significant as it was classy. But, for more personal reasons, I’ll vote for Jon Stead’s winner in the FA Cup at Championship Brentford. The 1-0 success was gutsy, brave and typified Notts at their best under Nolan. To reach the Third Round was a shock given the opponents, and Stead’s goal was an excellent curling strike in front of a fine away following, which created a brilliant atmosphere throughout. It also meant my wife, 12 years after her first game, had finally seen us win.

Irrespective of what happens in the playoffs, has it been a successful season?

It’s been a satisfactory season. I’m sorry, but no matter what happened the campaign before, if you are Notts County and you are in League Two promotion must be the aim. I won’t have anyone tell me otherwise. The play-offs are a minimum – especially when much smaller budget sides such as Accrington Stanley and Wycombe Wanderers get promoted automatically ahead of you. And having been in the running for so long, it’s disappointing not to hang on. We should have been capable of that. But it’s been better, for sure. Finally, the home form is brilliant. How long has it been since Meadow Lane has been our fortress? That’s my highlight.

Charlie Slater @CharlieSlater15

Player of the season (top 3)

  1. Elliot Hewitt – His performances aren’t necessarily the type that you notice week in and week out but what you do notice is when he’s NOT in the team. The midfield simply doesn’t have the same bite to it or the same work rate and engine when he isn’t there (either because he’s out of the team or covering at right back/centre back). He’s also had to adapt to playing alongside different partners in the middle of the park (Yates, Husin, Noble) and I’ll be interested to see how he does next season (hopefully) in a settled partnership.
  2. Matt Tootle – One of not too many names who could play for any side in League Two and many in League One. Excellent work rate up and down the line, strong in the tackle and ridiculous in celebration.
  3. Jorge Grant – He’s scored 18 goals (to date). I know he’s only got two since the New Year but he’s scored 18 goals. Without his contribution, Notts would not be in the playoffs.

Most improved player

Richard Duffy. He’s not everyone’s favourite and occasionally he appears to have an error in him but ultimately he’s gone from last season’s pantomime villain, to being talked about as a possible ‘Player of the Season’ candidate. THAT is an improvement.

Biggest disappointment

KFC running out of chicken for a large part of the season when we had a number of midweek away games. Tough times. Barnet, Chesterfield and Cambridge away weren’t great either.

Comedy moment

Matt Tootle’s celebration is one of the daftest things I’ve ever seen on a football pitch. Oh, and the 22 yard screamer of an own goal from Yeovil’s Tom James recently was BANGING.

Goal of the season

It’s tough to look past Noor Husin’s strike against Crewe at Meadow Lane. Firstly, it was a great finish. Secondly, it was in front of more than 17,000 at Meadow Lane and it really took the pressure off the players. And hopefully, goals like that on a day like that convinced some of those 17,000 who don’t make the trip to the Lane regularly to come back for more.

Irrespective of what happens in the playoffs, has it been a successful season?

I can really see both sides of the coin on this one. I, like you have heard the line ‘fans would’ve bitten my hand off to be guaranteed the playoffs back in July’…and I can see where Kevin Nolan and the players are coming from when they tell me this in interviews. I really can because what Kev and Alan Hardy have achieved, along with their support teams, since coming in to the club has been truly remarkable. They seek the sort of stability and display the kind of proactivity, commitment and work rate that is not commonplace in football, and they should be highly commended for this. Regardless of what happens in the playoffs.

That said I can certainly see where some fans are coming from when they say that the season has slipped away. That the playoffs are a bit of a downer considering the club sat in the automatic places for so long this season, and that it’s an opportunity missed to get promoted out of an average division. However with all of the above considered, ultimately I’d have to call the season a success regardless of what happens in the playoffs. What has been achieved with a squad that still consists many of the same players that lost ten games on the bounce under John Sheridan is impressive. Even more impressive, I hope, will be the club building on the back of this season by recruiting effectively this summer to ensure the expectations of next season are met, regardless of division.

On a personal note, I’ve really enjoyed my first season commentating on Notts County for BBC Radio Nottingham and I’m really excited about the playoffs. Thank you to all of the Notts fans who’ve been so welcoming this season and I hope it’s one that ends on a high at Wembley on a day to remember for all!

Tom Nixey @TMTM_Blog

Player of the season (top 3)

  1. Ryan Yates
  2. Elliot Hewitt
  3. Matt Tootle

“It’s player of the season, not of the half season…” Well for me Ryan Yates was that good in his time here. He was an absolute colossus. Jorge Grant may have scored the goals but Yates was the heartbeat of the side… he got us going. He was consistently head and shoulders above everyone else, never accepted anything less than 100% effort and embodied what we had become under Nolan. We’ve missed him badly since January; teams have found it easier to play through us and we’ve not won as many second balls as we did early doors, increasing the pressure we’ve found ourselves under defensively. I’m still firmly of the opinion that if Yates was still here we would be Champions.

Most improved player

Elliot Hewitt. To move into a completely new position and become so comfortable in it in about a season is pretty good going. Add into the mix that the position you’re moving into is arguably the most important on the pitch, then you’re a bit of a player. I was never convinced by Hewitt as a CM when he first moved into it and I still had my doubts early on this season but my how he’s come on. He gives the side real energy. He covers a tremendous amount of ground and has significantly improved his movement off the ball too. Add into this, when he’s given licence too, he’s chipped in with some very well taken goals, he has become a key member of the team. He keeps it simple. He knows his role. He fetches, he carries, he gets around the opposition and he plays it simply. I think if our central midfield was pushed on five or ten yards, he could really dominate games. He’s still got things to learn, but he’s done a fine job of it so far.

And when he gets the chance, he loves a Stevie G 50 yard diag, but who doesn’t…

Biggest disappointment

Liam Noble. From the second it came out we were sniffing around him I was firmly in the no camp, especially for £100,000. When he left Forest Green, I was not overly surprised to hear days later he’d be at Notts come January. Football is not the funny old game we sometimes think it is… What initially disappointed me was that Noble couldn’t get a sniff in the side when he was available and when he did eventually come in he was shifted out to the right hand side. How can you be at a club for three months, training day in, day out and not have integrated in your best position? He’s not a youngster either, he’s got good experience behind him. Maybe he was destined to play with Yates, but that’s still no excuse.

Since he’s been a permanent fixture in the side, he’s been hot and cold. He’s done well in patches, but much like his previous spell at Notts, he has not been consistent enough. At the start of the season I said he didn’t fit into the Nolan way of playing and I’m still sure of it now. It’s a desperate shame Michael O’Connor got injured when he did because he had been fit this season, I don’t think we’d have gone in for Noble at all. (Incoming; Liam Noble winner, Wembley, 90+4 vs Mansfield…)

Comedy moment

The Checkatrade Trophy and everything associated with it. Embarrassing.

Goal of the season

Matt Tootle vs Lincoln. A great bit of hold up play and great knock from Stead. A wonderful first touch and first time finish by Tootle that sailed into the bottom corner. Special mention to the Yeovil OG the other week. Unbelievable Jeff.

Irrespective of what happens in the playoffs, has it been a successful season?

Yes, but it will be tinged with an element of disappointment after being in the Top 2 for half of the season. As the season goes by, your ultimate aim should be continually re-evaluated based on what you have produced so far; that is only sensible and that’s why the “Look at we were last season…” argument ran very thinly with me very early on. Add to this Mr Hardy championing our Top 3 form from January last season, I just can’t buy that argument.

After being seven points clear of fourth after 26 games to being four points off fourth at the time of writing, that for me is a disappointment. We had it all in or own hands and we have let it slip away. I’m of course pleased to be in the Play Offs because you’ve given yourself a chance of going up, but that chance should have not been necessary; we should have gone up automatically.

Jake Gunton @JaKeGuNtOn

Player of the season

  1. Tootle – superb all year long and a couple of cracking goals to boot. Not to mention the Slug. Need I say more?
  2. Brisley – he’s been a mountain for me. Headed everything, distribution not great but doesn’t matter when you’re a league 2 centre half. Hell of a signing!
  3. Hewitt – massively consistent this year, energy knows no bounds. More end product, work on distribution, and you’ve got a real player there.

Most improved player

I think it has to be Hewitt. The difference between the raw, naive right back we signed in 2015 to the player we have now is colossal. One of a few I reckon could potentially make the step up if we win the play offs.

Biggest disappointment

You’d have to say missing out on autos, considering where we’d been pre-Christmas. The Mansfield equaliser still annoys me and you just can’t help but think a few points that could have put us third have slipped away a little too easily. Added to the Barnet, Chesterfield and Grimsby losses, all of which were dire. Having said that, there haven’t really been many disappointments this year – thank god!

Comedy moment

Coventry fans on the pitch for their equaliser only to be silenced a minute later by a Jonny F backheel to send ML into euphoria. Priceless.

Goal of the season

Tough one. Technically Husin’s was brilliant, as was Tootle’s vs Lincoln. But for me its Stead at Brentford. Fantastic hit, away end in absolute mayhem, unbelievable day. Ill remember that for a long time.

Irrespective of what happens in the playoffs, would you consider the season a success?

Yes. Lets be fair, we’ve overachieved. Play offs is a great achievement and massive credit should go to everyone. The twinge of disappointment comes from looking at where we were for the first part of the season, because we were what, 7 points clear of 4th at one point? But, its a lot of what ifs, and at least I can say I’ve been proud to be a Notts fan this year. Its been a while!

Twitter – Fans choice

Player of the season

Such was the competitive nature for this season’s player of the season award, it took Matt Tootle three rounds to be named the #notts Twitter Player of the season, beating strong competition from Hewitt and Grant, who’d also been voted into the final.

Most Improved

Hewitt has the honour (?) of winning this accolade for two seasons running, which hopefully he’ll see as a compliment. The versatile former Ipswich man had already started his transformation from full-back to midfield general at the end of last season, but he’s continued his upward progression this time around and is now one of the first names on the teamsheet. Coming from such a high starting point, if he wins it again next year, it’ll be a lot more than the ‘most improved’ Notts player award he’d be taking home.

What do you think? Who gets your player of the season? Has it been a good sesaon? Leave your comments below or get involved in the debate on Twitter @GerritForward.

Rob Davies

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