During some downtime at home recently I tried to recall all of the players from the various periods since our relegation from the Premier League on that fateful afternoon in the Potteries but struggled with remembering all of the shite we’ve had to put up with in all honesty.
Then I got to thinking, who would make the best eleven out of this rag tag bunch.
There have been silver linings in among the dark rainclouds of all those Matt Mills’ hoofs, Neil Danns’ misplaced passes and Liam Trotter’s aimless lumbering. A lot of my team will probably be shouted down as baloney but it’s just my opinion, so hear me out before the vitriol commences. The criteria for my team is partly based on how the individual played for us but also on what they have done in their career or gone onto achieve since pulling on the White shirt.
First of all we will begin at the back, like all good managers, with the Goalkeepers position. We’ve had a few custodians in the past 5 years who have had very good mini-spells for us. Ben Amos, when on loan, was excellent under Neil Lennon’s stewardship and not one fan can honestly say they were disappointed when he signed on a free transfer from Manchester United that summer, on an admittedly eye-watering wage. This has been since pinpointed as an example of the ‘Premier League contracts’ handed out under the old regime which contributed to the financial mess we have found ourselves embroiled in during recent years.
Andy Lonergan also had a spell under Dougie Freedman where he looked every inch the keeper many thought he would turn out to be as a highly rated youngster. However, I have plumped for the ‘Ginger Wotsit’, Adam Bogdan.
His quality was undoubted, despite numerous troubles with injuries and that performance against Liverpool at Anfield in the FA Cup which prompted Brendan ‘beautiful man’ Rodgers to sign him on a Bosman free that summer was the best display of goalkeeping I’ve seen, at least since Jussi’s heyday and Ali Al-Habsi at the Allianz Arena.
In my back four I have gone for a couple of loanees who had brief stints at the Macron Stadium in Alan ‘overrun the ball then snap someone in two’ Hutton and Radcliffe-born Craig Dawson. Hutton was another Lennon signing and despite his short spell, left a lasting impression on me. He was a proper Bolton Wanderers style player in that he was committed, rough and ready and just fit in. It was a huge shame that we weren’t able to turn the loan into a permanent arrangement. He beat a pretty desperate bunch to be honest including a fading Sam Ricketts and bloody Tyrone Mears.
I was torn over putting Rob Holding in at RB as that’s where he was shoehorned in the team at first under Lennon but it was not where he truly shone.
Alas, he has also been ousted from CB by Craig Dawson in my team, who was a colossus on loan in our first season back in the Championship. Four goals in just 16 games made him a real fan favourite and whatever daft rule that means a player can’t see out the whole season on loan cost us that final play-off spot as the centre-back returning to the Hawthorns coincided with our excruciating collapse at home to Blackpool to miss out to Leicester for that 6th place. His subsequent regular position for West Brom shows his quality and he can consider himself unlucky not to have added a senior cap to his 15 under-21 appearances for England, for whom he also scored a hefty 6 goals.
Tim Ream slots in alongside Dawson. His player of the year season was spent as a steady Eddie left-back but his anticipation and pace were best used in the centre. His continued success at Fulham FC shows that his quality has not diminished.
One of the most surprising success stories of our recent former players is that of Marcos Alonso’s meteoric rise from the paceless, tackle-shy, ponderous player who struggled to get a game under Owen Coyle to the pivotal title winner of last season under Antonio Conte’s tutelage. His move to Fiorentina on a free was not widely mourned by fans at the time, despite a much inproved second half of the season under Freedman’s resurgent Whites. His technique when striking a ball was obvious but his defensive output and aforementioned lack of speed looked like it would stunt his ability to reach the top but his improvement since he left the Macron has been astounding...
Check back tomorrow to read Part 2 of Lee’s post relegation Best XI.