Lists

Ranked! The 10 best players in the Championship

Tom Cairney Fulham

It's awards season, so Mike Holden gets himself in the spirit – and the crosshairs – by running down the second tier's finest stars

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10. Patrick Bamford (Middlesbrough)

Patrick Bamford

The former Chelsea youngster has been thriving as a focal point over the past couple of months, scoring nine goals in seven matches as a lone striker following a season-ending injury to Rudy Gestede.

His game intelligence, close control and trickery have given Boro fresh impetus just when Adama Traore was beginning to tire in his Forrest Gump-like role of getting Boro high upfield quickly. Thankfully, Bamford's collision with Aden Flint at the weekend wasn't as bad as first feared.

9. Conor Coady (Wolves) 

Conor Coady

Versatility was said to be Coady’s biggest asset under previous managers, but the 25-year-old has benefited from a clear purpose under Nuno – and thrived at the heart of Wolves' three-man defence.

Conspicuous for his passion, the Liverpudlian has grown increasingly prominent this season, and has been vital when the table-toppers have been required to dig in and grind out results over recent months. An England call-up has even been mooted, although such lofty ambitions will have to wait until after the World Cup.

8. James Maddison (Norwich)

James Maddison

It's been a season to forget for Norwich, but the performances of their 21-year-old playmaker have gone a long way towards alleviating frustrations.

The £11m January sale of Alex Pritchard to Huddersfield was a no-brainer while Daniel Farke was struggling to accommodate both players in his starting line-up, and Maddison has been sensational since taking on sole responsibility. He's a crowd-pleaser with bags of end product, and 14 goals and eight assists isn't bad for a breakthrough season at this level.

Reports suggest early summer interest from Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool.

7. Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham)

Ryan Sessegnon

Sessegnon was recently crowned Championship Player of the Season and is among the six stars in contention for the PFA Young Player of the Year award – making him the first player from outside the top flight ever to be shortlisted.

Such impressive accolades follow a sensational season of 14 goals and six assists – so far – for a Fulham team sniffing automatic promotion, and all of those coming from various positions on the left flank. But the most impressive thing of all, bearing in mind all of the above? He doesn’t even turn 18 until mid-May. Scandalous.

6. Shaun Hutchinson (Millwall)

Shaun Hutchinson

The chief policeman of a watertight Millwall defence. All too frequently strikers turn into space, only for Hutchinson to appear from nowhere and stick the handcuffs on.

Nine clean sheets in the last 15 matches have provided the platform from which the Lions have surged into surprise play-off contention – and even more impressive is that opponents have tested keeper Jordan Archer just once every 33 minutes over the past three months, with six of their last dozen opponents managing one or fewer shots on target.