Who is Paul Kendrick's Wigan Athletic player of the season?
Promotion has been secured...hopefully the League One title won't be long in following...but who are the men most responsible for Wigan Athletic's success this year? Paul Kendrick looks at the runners and riders for player of the year '“ and gives his verdict!
It’s all about the team.
That’s been Paul Cook’s message from day one.
And to be fair, the Latics boss has had it bang on.
While Bradley Dack was undoubtedly the face of Blackburn’s promotion charge, and Jack Marriott’s goals underpinned Peterborough’s play-off push, the waters have been rather more muddied at the DW Stadium.
Not that there hasn’t been any individual performers to match the likes of Dack and Marriott.
But rather there’s been far too many of them!
Starting at the back, Christian Walton – and, during his injury-enforced absence, Jamie Jones – have completely obliterated the record for clean sheets in a season.
While performing manfully when called upon, the pair have more often than not found themselves with precious little to do thanks to the heroics in front of them.
At the other end of the field, Latics are far and away the top scorers in the division, and in the final reckoning won’t be too far away from the 100-goal mark, as well as the 100-point tally.
But rather than rely on the goals of Will Grigg – as was more the case two years ago – this time it’s been far more of a collective effort, with even the defenders chipping in with a regular drip-feed of goals to keep things ticking over.
It says a lot about the number of high-quality candidates that Grigg could end up eclipsing the 28 club goals he notched on the way to the Golden Boot in 2015/16, and yet he only scrapes into the top five players of the season.
If he’d been fully fit for the whole season, he would undoubtedly have been far higher.
Given the weeks of building up to full fitness following knee surgery and rehab, it begs the question how many goals could the 25-goal striker – and Latics – have bagged had he been fully fit for more games.
His goals-per-minute return, for example, is far superior to Marriott, who will win the Golden Boot at a canter.
At number four, another glaring example of how scarily good this squad is...Nick Powell.
Now I’ve opined all season Powell is THE best player in the division. Bar none.
More than once this term I’ve found my eyes following him around the pitch, biding his time before making a crucial contribution to the game.
When he has been at the races, he’s been literally unplayable – Premier League quality, never mind Championship quality.
If he could maintain that level every single week, he would most likely still be playing in the top flight – where he will surely one day end up.
But even though his stardust has been sprinkled throughout Wigan’s success, there have been even more consistent performers.
Take, for example, Nathan Byrne, at number three.
By all accounts, Powell’s closest pal off the field, and worthy of a podium finish in my player of the year reckoning.
This time last year, Byrne was on loan at Charlton, having failed to nail down a place under first Gary Caldwell and then Warren Joyce.
Under Paul Cook he has found his feet – admittedly in a division below – and been allowed to express his attacking instincts within the confines of a defensive role.
The challenge next season will be for him to take this form into the Championship but, given the incredible consistency he’s shown this term, he’ll be confident of doing that.
Being able to perform in the second tier will be no problem for Dan Burn – runner-up in my reckoning...by the width of a cigarette paper.
A man who was far and away Wigan’s shining light in last season’s car-crash campaign.
I’m still trying to comprehend how and why no Championship club attempted to lure Burn from the DW last summer – or even in January – after Wigan’s relegation.
But more fool them, because he has taken that form into this season, has been even more consistent, and also added goals to his game on a regular basis.
In any other year, any of these quartet would have been a worthy player of the season.
And I’ve seen every one put forward by fans on social media as their own personal choice.
But for me, I have to give the award to the glue that has bound the side together all season...skipper Sam Morsy.
He may not grab headlines on a weekly basis but, make no mistake, those that do would not be able to without his influence behind the scenes.
Burn and the defence have recorded such an impressive clean-sheet tally partly because of the protection afforded them by Morsy and Max Power/Lee Evans.
(Here’s another thought...how highly in the reckoning would a hybrid of Evans in the first half of the season and Power in the second half of the campaign featured...?)
Byrne has been allowed to get forward as a result of Morsy and his midfield partner dropping into the gap left, to guard against counter attack.
And the likes of Powell and Grigg have been given the platform to work their magic thanks to Morsy’s willingness to win the ball back at any and every opportunity, and keep it simple.
It’s not that he can’t get forward and be a threat himself – he showed that last season when returning from loan at Barnsley, when he was Wigan’s main attacking threat for a time until being recalled back into the engine room.
One thing’s for sure...the influence of Morsy - who will hopefully be going to the World Cup this summer with Egypt - has certainly not gone unnoticed at managerial level.
Within weeks of taking over at the DW, boss Cook had made Morsy his captain, his on-field general.
Just like he was during their success at Chesterfield.
It’s a partnership that has been at the heart of the Latics success story this term.
And which will hopefully underpin more success in the Championship next season and beyond.
Do you agree with Paul’s verdict? Tweet @WigToday or @PKendrickWIG with your thoughts!