Redcar Rock's Stellar Cert
DAVID WHEATER looks set to collect the coveted Evening Gazette star man trophy. Three games left and he just needs one error free show in a share of a clean sheet to secure a solitary precious Paylor point to nudge clear of Gary O'Neil at the top of the table. Unless Boro stump up the cash and Boro's Mr 99 returns with a bang.
Or.... or... whisper it... unless the season goes into the play-offs giving an extra couple of games for Barry Robson to put in a sizzling sequence of stellar solo displays and close an 11 point gap. Well, if we can ponder the permutations and mathematical models needed to extend the season, why not speculate on Robbo just sneaking it?
A nice thought and it would put down a serious marker for next season. In truth though the Redcar Rock now looks a cert to lift "the Eric". Two points for a storming second half against Sheff Wed took him level on 31 with O'Neil. The engine room battler had ground out the stars consistently, especially in the first half of the season (and especially when I had an imput) and looked to have the glittering prize within his grasp. He'd have got away with it too if it hadn't been for those pesky Boro belt-tightening bean-counters.
Now Wheater needs one star from the three final games and given the team's current form and the calming influence of Big Mick alongside him, he should do it. Robson is the next best on 20 - which isn't a bad return from 16 games since his arrival in January - but it will take some going to close the gap even if we do scrape into the play-offs ... and even if we do pull it off it will take some massive results and impressive defnsive displays in which no doubt Wheats would share in the points dividend.
This year's star man ratings - and by extension all the other gong shows now being mulled over - has been a strange beast. Admittedly not as strange as last year when the whole thing should have been scrapped and all the plaudits directed at the fans who had endured a season of relentless pain and suffering even the most hardened sado-masochist would have shrunk away from in fear, but a strange beast nevertheless.
It has been a truncated season of two distinct halves in which there have been two clear and very different candidates for the big award, players who have crystalised two markedly contrasting on the pitch philosophies and who at times have carried the team and won matches almost single handedly as they scooped the stars with abandon.
In the first half of the season, a period dedicated to Arsenal-lite cavalier counter-attacking with pace, Adam Johnson was head and shoulders the main man. He raced to 12 goals and 16 stars in the first half of the season and won generous glowing reviews from opposition fans, press and broken gaffers almost every week. That the team was in decline or pointed criticism that he did not track back, tackle or was easily neutralised did not alter the debilitating truth that he was the sole creative outlet.
It doesn't seem five minutes ago he was ripping apart Wednesday and Donacaster. Now he is barging into camerashot to join the goal celebrations at Manchester City, he may just squeeze onto the plane as a World Cup stowaway and looks poised to play Champions League football next year. And he's still our top scorer.
The second half of the season has been about pragmatism, work-rate, battling and ball retention and the new Strachnovite Revolution has been personified by Barry Robosn who has galvanised and inspired on his way to 20 stars and five goals. His drive, will to win and leadership have not only helped transform the mentality of the unit but also given some pointers as to how the future will look.
Incidentally, the impact of the January changes is also seen in McManus, just behind Robson on 16 stars, not a bad haul in a couple of months. Projected over the whole season the pair would be well ahead in a private battle for the big one.
Neither of them - or Johnno - will get the gong though. And with O'Neil imprisoned in a
contractual stand-off it is now compromise candidate Wheater's prize to win, a kind of hung Parliament coalition fudge of everyone's second choice, the sports desk's symbolic illustration of how the single transferable vote could work.
Well, not everyone's second choice. Some would say he does not deserve either it and that only his dogged longevity as a fixture in a season of turmoil has pushed him to the fore. After a solid start Wheater wobbled badly after the prop of Huth was kicked from under him and there was a costly and chaotic run when the captain's armband weighed him down through a dodgy error-strewn goal-a-game spell and he suddenly found himself in the terrace snipers' crosshairs as scapegoat elect. And if that wasn't bad enough he also had to play alongside Sean St Ledger for 15 chaotic games.
But he has battled through that, gradually acclimatised to the thud and blunder of the Championship and rebuilt his game alongside McManus. He has cut out the errors and started to grind out solid and steely displays again and while he is not yet back to the form that took him to the fringes of the England team he has certainly salvaged his cult status and regained an automatic place in the starting line-up.
If Wheats does nip in to steal the prize it will be the second year running nearly man O'Neil has been pipped at the post. He lost out to Stewie Downing in 2008-9 after leading going into the last two games.
That particular year was an embarrassment. Very few people came through the season untarnished. Downing and O'Neil were just ahead of Wheats despite January transfer wrangles and noticeable dips in form while Huth and Tuncay - who clearly wanted out and disappeared for long spells when the heat was on - were just behind and Ross Turnbull who racked up 20 stars in 23 games before being dumped on the naughty step for not signing a take-it-or-leave-it new deal.
The season before Downing edged to the award with 33 stars ahead of David ' there or thereabouts' Wheater and Tuncay, both on 29 and Luke Young just behind.
And the star-studded top six from the 2006-7 will make you weep at how far we have slipped back. Woodgate strolled to the gong with an imperious 41 stars with Downing and Viduka on 30 and Pogatetz, Schwarzer and Boateng all in the upper 20s. Those were the days,
So what do you think? One award fo Wheats or split it in two with a hacksaw and give one to Robbo and mail the other to Adam Johnson?
MEANWHILE here's a few things that I have pointed my browser at on trendy Twitter in the last few days....
Guardian tactics guru Jonathan Wilson considers the history and development of the much maligned offside law and the modern FIFA inspired tweaks that have ushered in a new age of attacking football.
The low tech future of live football coverage? Mini Man United lose to bite sized Bayern Munchen - in Legovision!
The Little Fella bows out by saving his beloved Brazilian club from the drop and in a blatant nod to the sentimentalist and nostalgists in the gallery, reality TV style, "let's look back at your best bits."
And here's another chance to see the gaffer Strachan chat to Clem on the Beeb's Late Kick Off in which he admits the wage bill will have to fall further this summer and that without Adam Johnson's contribution a bad season would have been "shocking."