Dave Seddon’s press view
THE ballot box is open and the debate has begun.
Forget the Clegg versus Farage hot-air nonsense, the race is on to find Preston North End’s Player of the Year.
Joe Garner, Bailey Wright, Tom Clarke and Declan Rudd look the strongest candidates from what has been a great season so far.
It is Garner who gets my vote, just nudging Clarke into the runners-up position.
That statement is enough to cause a row in my household, with my son having both feet firmly in the Clarke camp.
The fact that ‘Super Tommy Clarke’ scored the winner against Blackpool in August is enough for Seddon Jnr.
The little fella might only be five years old and still sucking his thumb, but he’s not a bad judge is he?
But it is Garner for me, 23 goals and counting the reason why he’s the chosen one in my eyes.
Goals win you games and the striker has been supplying them by the bucketful since the beginning of November.
The fact that he had scored only once before November 2 might be seen as a black mark against him.
But 22 goals in 28 games since then is up there with the top marksmen.
Actually, I think you would be hard pressed to find a better scoring rate than that.
What I like about Garner is his variety of goal. He is not just a six-yard poacher.
In fact he’s anything but, with his goals flying in from all angles and rarely being close-range tap-ins.
If you had asked me at the start of the season where Garner was in the strikers’ pecking order, I would have put him behind Kevin Davies, Iain Hume and Stuart Beavon.
His red card in the friendly at Fleetwood didn’t do him any favours at the time.
For quite a while, he was in the main fed a diet of substitute appearances.
His solitary goal in the first 17 games of the campaign came against MK Dons in August.
A spring of the heels and a flick of his neck changed all that in stoppage-time at the end of the Tranmere home match.
That headed equaliser was to get him properly up-and-running, and he has not looked back since.
Two more in the FA Cup win over Barnet the following week, the volleyed winner at Leyton Orient, his header against Colchester and the double at Port Vale came in quick succession.
Suspension for a time got in the way of progress, but Garner was back at it on New Year’s Day as Port Vale again found to their cost.
It goes on like that, with three blank games the longest a drought has gone on.
We must hope that Garner keeps those shooting boots polished for a few more weeks as North End chase the promotion chase – whether by automatic means or through the play-offs.
While justifying Garner as my player of the year, it would be wrong to overlook the claims of others.
Clarke has hardly put a foot wrong defending his own box this season, while he has weighed in with six goals at the other end – including THAT header – to become second highest scorer behind Garner.
His capture on a Bosman in June hardly caused a ripple, after all he had played just 15 minutes of first-team football the previous season for Huddersfield.
But what a vital signing Clarke had turned out to be, and the Yorkshireman will be the choice, I would guess, of a sizeable section of supporters.
Alongside Clarke in the defence, Wright has continued to blossom.
Last season he was voted as the club’s young player of the year, and for some the Aussie has stepped up to become the best player overall.
The claims of Rudd cannot be ignored either, with the on-loan goalkeeper having kept 20 clean sheets, 16 of those being in league games.
There have been a few errors, and it is a fact of life for a keeper that such mistakes get highlighted. But they can be balanced out by recalling a string of superb saves made.
One only has to think back to stoppage-time against Walsall last month when he tipped over James Baxendale’s shot which was on its way into the top corner.
That is just a single example, and there are plenty of others.
I’ll stick with Garner though, and here’s to him reaching the 30-goal mark by the time the season is out.