Twelve months ago, when it came to dishing out the End of Season Awards, I started by expressing my sadness that the season had come to an early conclusion due to the pandemic, but today nothing makes me happier than being able to consign this campaign to the history books and never spoken of again.
Let’s put the full stop on this disastrous season by trying to take some positives out of the past ten months, and take a brief look at the three players who stood out from the crowd.
Before we look at these talented individuals, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts over this season, it’s easily been one of the worst in the club’s 142-year history, and we can only hope Clem Morfuni is successful with his attempt to buy the club over the summer, resulting in everyone looking forward to a positive future, starting with the 2021/22 campaign.
Player of the Season
After an incredibly quiet start to pre-season on the transfers front Town finally started recruitment for our return to League One in late July with the surprise arrival of Diallang Jaiyesimi, fast-forward a couple of weeks and I remember having to do a double-take when I read on social media, we had signed Jack Payne on a free transfer from Lincoln City.
This was a man who had been playing in the Championship only a couple of years previously and had enjoyed promotion with Blackburn Rovers in 2018.
On the opening day of the season Payne started in his natural position playing behind the striker, and as Town took a 3-0 lead into half-time It was clear he would become an important player, and that turned out to be the case as he made the most appearances in the first-team squad and looked a step above his colleagues for most of the season.
Despite only chipping in with four goals over the season his most important came against Bristol Rovers as his strike claimed three valuable points and moved Town three points away from danger, in what we all hoped was a turning point in our season.
With the 26-year-old signing a two-year deal last August he is contracted for another year, but with reports that clubs are showing interest in the talented playmaker I’d be very surprised if we saw him in a Town shirt again.
Young Player of the Season
After the arrival of a few players, Town announced the signing of Akin Odimayo after a successful pre-season trial and Matt Smith from Arsenal who arrived not long after collecting a winner’s medal in the F.A Cup Final.
The then 19-year-old arrived with a glowing reputation from fans at his parent club as it was clear big things are expected from the young midfielder, and he didn’t waste time showing why he was so highly thought of as on his League debut he scored his first professional goal and was the best player on the pitch.
These performances continued throughout the opening months of the season, with one highlight coming in the F.A Cup as his brilliant through ball lead to Brett Pitman levelling the contest. Sadly, when Richie Wellens left for new pastures, the creative midfielder becomes less attack-minded under the new manager, and despite still being the best player on the pitch on quite a few occasions we never quite got the same player.
When John Sheridan dropped Smith from his starting eleven on several occasions Arsenal recalled their man back to North London and sent him out on loan to Charlton Athletic.
Sadly, this loan move didn’t work out for the midfielder, as he ended up playing for the Addicks U23 side at the end of the campaign, an incredible waste of time for both parties, hopefully, next season he’ll get a more settled loan move where he can once again become the key man and show the sort of form we enjoyed at the County Ground.
Most Improved Player
Three years after his Town debut and making his mark on a few occasions it seemed time was running out for the former youth team player at the County Ground.
With Richie Wellens not seeing a place for him in his team he loaned him out to Newport County in League Two and after being given the chance of some regular first-team football he lit up Rodney Parade with several fantastic long-range strikes and quickly became a vital part of their side.
With Swindon struggling in League One Twine was recalled in January and in his first start of the season in a Town shirt he showed why Wellens should have possibly given him a chance as his incredible 35-yard strike against Ipswich Town made the footballing public take notice, with this game being live on Sky Sports.
He went onto score six more goals for Town taking his total over the season to 14 between the two divisions including a brace on the final day of the season to earn Town three points to finish the campaign.
I noticed on social media this week he incredibly scored the most goals outside the box (nine) in the top five leagues in Europe and the EFL, with Lionel Messi taking second place, a great example of the talent he possesses.
After never getting his chance before this season it was brilliant to see someone from the club’s academy have such a successful season personally, and with his contract expiring this summer, Town has offered improved terms to keep him at the County Ground.
I desperately hope the 21-year-old signs a new deal and continues his development with us, but with Town facing life in League Two and the talented attacking midfielder ready to continue in League One or maybe the Championship, I sadly see his appearance at the DW Stadium as his last in the famous red and white.
If he does move on, as a fellow Town fan, I wish him all the best, and I’m sure he’ll enjoy a successful career.