The 51 best players in the Football League this season
5. Oliver Norwood (Sheffield United)
Having played a part in previous campaigns for both Brighton and Fulham, the central midfielder has done the unexpected in landing three promotions in a row – and his influence is greater than ever. He has been the Blades’ metronome, managing more passes per game than any other Championship player, but just as crucially Norwood offered Chris Wilder steel in the middle of the park. His wicked set-piece delivery has teed up numerous goals, too.
4. Harry Wilson (Derby)
Welsh wizard Wilson has done enough on loan with the Rams – after last year’s heroics at Hull – to earn the chance to prove himself in Liverpool’s first team. His goals from distance and dead-ball flair have got Derby (and Wales) out of several awkward scrapes, and the youngster’s ability to manipulate a football with that hammer of a left foot has made him something of a sensation on social media.
3. Billy Sharp (Sheffield United)
If anyone deserves a crack at the Premier League, it’s Sharp. Since making his Championship bow at Sheffield United 15 years ago, he has surpassed 300 appearances in the division, netting 114 goals and showing immense strength of character during personal tragedy – yet he’s played just 20 top-flight minutes. Few would begrudge the Blades’ talisman – 33 and scoring more than ever – another shot next season.
2. Pablo Hernandez (Leeds)
This season has produced 12 goals and 12 assists for the 34-year-old Spaniard, as Leeds excruciatingly missed out on automatic promotion. Hernandez has played for nine clubs throughout his career but has rarely hit the form he has shown at Elland Road, telling FFT that it's down to boss Marcelo Bielsa’s eye for detail. Rather than the Argentine’s difficult reputation, he says the manager is “just loco for football”.
1. Teemu Pukki (Norwich)
When Norwich signed Pukki, then 28, on a free transfer from Brondby, it wasn’t with a view to the Finn scoring 29 goals for a table-topping Canaries outfit. He has been the Championship’s bargain of the season – and, say FourFourTwo readers, the Football League’s Player of the Season
Although Pukki has 10 assists, putting him in the league’s top 10 creators, his campaign – and the club’s – has been defined by his goals.
But how? Pukki isn’t especially tall, nor quick compared to many Championship forwards, or indeed many Championship defenders. The Finn’s attacking movement is superb, though, and what he lacks in pace, he finds in space.
Arguably, Pukki isn’t a striker at all. His first Norwich start up top was in September, and has spent a sizeable chunk of his career on the right or in the hole. Daniel Farke benched striker Jordan Rhodes, moved Pukki forward and City – having taken five points from their opening six games – won their next four by single-goal margins, with their new striker scoring in three of them.
He’s made a habit of scoring vital goals this term, with late winners against Millwall (97th minute), Bolton (93rd) and Blackburn (86th) joining match-settling strikes in tight victories over Preston, Middlesbrough and QPR.
That’s Pukki this year: the difference-maker. He’s the hero that no one anticipated – perhaps not even Norwich.
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