So, our 2018/19 season is over – and what a rollercoaster it’s been, with us recovering superbly after enduring our worst start to a league campaign since 1898.
We didn’t register our first victory until November, with a Ayoze Perez header giving us a much needed 1-0 win over Watford, but we secured safety with several weeks to spare thanks to some gritty away days and superb wins at St James’ Park over the second half of the season.
With that in mind, here’s a few of our end of season awards now the curtain has come down on another campaign following our 4-0 win at Fulham.
- Player of the season? – Salomon Rondon.
- Young player of the season? – Sean Longstaff
- Unsung hero? – Martin Dubravka.
- Most improved player? – Isaac Hayden
- Disappointment of the season? – Kenedy
- Favourite game of the season? – Newcastle 3-2 Everton
- Goal of the season? – Schar vs Burnley
- Signing of the season? – Almiron / Schar
1. Player of the season – Salomon Rondon
Watching the big Venezuelan lead the line each week has been an absolute joy. Forgetting his goals and assists for a second, we’ve learnt to appreciate what a capable, all-round striker he is. He’s a real handful, a huge physical presence, he battles for every ball, he runs himself into the ground, tracks back, holds the ball up well, links the play and brings the best out of his fellow attackers.
Then to his goals (12) and assists (8). When we signed him from West Brom I knew he had the potential to fit into Rafa’s system well, being a big, hard working striker who was surprisingly mobile and able to fit into a counter-attacking side, but his quality in front of goal has surpassed my expectations. He’s taken his big chances, scored several huge goals, been dominant in the air, a threat from free-kicks and emphatic more often than not when good balls have arrived into him in the box.
He would’ve been my signing of the season had he joined permanently, but the fact he’s heading back to West Brom this week makes his arrival on loan so frustrating.
2. Young player of the season – Sean Longstaff
A knee injury cut his season short, but his emergence onto the scene has been a breath of fresh air, with him not only playing like a local lad who’s giving it his all and living the dream, but an established Premier League player who’s been around for years.
He had a successful loan spell with Blackpool over the 2017/18 season and was known to be one of our brightest U-23 talents, however I don’t think many saw him hitting the ground running the way he did once Rafa gave him his big chance at first-team level.
3. Unsung hero – Martin Dubravka
If I was going for a contender for player of the season alongside Rondon then the likes of Schar, Hayden or Perez may have come closer than the Slovakian, however I believe he’s been a key and consistent figure who hasn’t always been given the credit he’s deserved.
It’s easy to forget after so many players upped their game in the new year, but, during our struggling start to the season, both he and Federico Fernandez were our two stand-out performers. He was making several keys saves per game, commanding his box and being quick off his line to cut out any danger.
He had a two-game blip in February, making errors in our late defeat at Spurs and a last second draw at Wolves, but that doesn’t define what has otherwise been another brilliant one for the big man.
He’s a calming influence from the back, a brilliant organiser and a very competent all round goalkeeper, with his £4m arrival looking more and more like on hell of a bargain.
4. Most improved player? – Isaac Hayden
The character and heart he’s shown in the face of adversity is one thing – with him being unsettled for family reasons for the entire season – but his performance level on the pitch has been outstanding since the turn of the year.
Not only has he become our top tackler, our midfield general and a player who’ll cover every blade of grass most weeks, he’s looked much more confident on the ball, spraying passes, carrying us forward and keeping things moving in the middle.
If this 2019 form is anything to go by, he’s a hugely talented midfielder who’s capable both on and off the ball – and that’s not something we expected to say about him just a few months ago.
5. Disappointment of the season – Kenedy
Muto’s lack of involvement has been frustrating after a £9.5m move and Shelvey has had a stinker, being either injured or rarely selected, but this one has to go to Kenedy.
He was brilliant for us from January onwards last season and so many of us were delighted to see him arrive on loan again over the summer as a result, but he’s been awful this time around.
The Brazilian has skill and flare, however his decisions making and final product has been woeful, with him losing possession on countless occasions, looking desperate and dejected at the best of times and out of Benitez’s plans for the entire second half of the season as a result. A part of me wonders if he failed to fully recover from his shocking performance at Cardiff on the second weekend of the season, with him missing a 90th minute penalty and taking plenty pelters as a result. Then again, I can’t help but feels his head has just not been in it during his second spell at St James’.
You win some you lose some – looks how influential fellow loanee Rondon has been – but to say we were lucky not to have paid big money to sign him permanently last summer is an understatement if his performances this season are anything to go by.
6. Favourite game of the season – Newcastle 3-2 Everton
It would’ve been easy to say the 2-1 win over Man City given we’re the only side this year to beat the Champions in the Premier League, but the 3-2 win over Everton had it all for me.
At one stage they were 2-0 up, Pickford had saved a penalty and given it the big one just moments after he should’ve seen red and it looked like a damaging home defeat to keep us just 3 points clear of the drop zone, but we turned it around incredibly in the final 25 minutes, with Everton folding like a pack of cards and Pickford being left to look an absolute plonker.
Rondon started the comeback after a brilliant give and go with Perez and Ayoze then scored twice in the final 10 minutes to give us a superb win, which not only created some epic scenes in the Gallowgate end but a 6 point gap between us and the bottom 3.
It’s also worth noting that Almiron caused havoc in this one and looked like an electric talent all afternoon – something that really added to the occasion in a game where we hoped to see some spark from our new £21m man.
7. Goal of the season – Schar vs Burnley
It was a game where Burnley were planning to frustrate us in a bid to come away with a scrappy draw, but this moment of magic eased any early nerves and sent us on to a comfortable 2-0 win.
Schar’s solo run and finish in the 3-0 win over Cardiff was brilliant, as was Ritchie (late volley) and Rondon’s (free kick) goals in the 2-2 draw at Bournemouth, but Fabian’s 30-yard thunderbolt wins it for me.
8. Signing of the season – Schar /Almiron
I’m stuck between the two. I know the whole point of these ‘awards’ is that you come up with a overall winner, but both looks to be superb signings for the club.
Schar looks an incredible piece of business at £3.5m, with Rafa finding his release clause after he was relegated with Deportivo last summer. After all, defenders like him who can do the dirty stuff at the back, spray 60-yard passes up the pitch, step out of defence superbly and score from 30-yards normally cost over 10 times that price in this day and age. Without him this season we may have coped, with Lejeune, Lascelles, Fernandez, Dummett and Clark giving us several centre-back options, but he’s given us another dimension, with his ball playing ability allowing our change in formation (to 3 at the back) to work so well.
Then to Almiron. He’s yet to score and I’m certain that the best is yet to come as far as he’s concerned, but it took him no time to transform our attack to give us the boost we needed to secure survival at the business end of the season. His pace, movement, energy and enthusiasm (at both ends of the pitch!) has been an absolute joy to watch.
Based on contributions this season the award would have to go to Schar, but I’m already supremely confident that he’ll become a stellar signing for the club from what I’ve seen so far.
Let us know your thoughts folks! Who would you have given the above awards to and why?