We’re just over the halfway point in the Football League season, and there have been plenty of star performers. Paul Smith has selected his half-teams of the season for each division, now moving into League One.
Goalkeeper – Dean Henderson, Shrewsbury
While leaders Wigan Athletic have a slightly better defensive record, Henderson has the most clean sheets, with 11 in 22 appearances. Henderson has been outstanding. The 20-year-old is on loan from Manchester United and is showing he could yet have a future at Old Trafford. His manager Paul Hurst says he is the most consistent keeper in the division and fails to recall him making a costly error. Hurst is desperate to keep him for the season, and that could make the difference in the Shrews’ promotion bid.
Right-back – Tony McMahon, Bradford City
McMahon has been a model of consistency over a number of seasons for the Bantams, and this campaign is no different. Whether as part of a back four, or more often as a wing-back, McMahon is one of the first names on Stuart McCall’s team sheet. He is McCall’s leader, adding experience, knowhow and determination while offering an attacking outlet and a defensive willingness. His winner at Northampton was an important moment in City’s season. His form is such that McMahon is reported to be interesting City’s promotion rivals Scunthorpe – but McCall will be loath to lose him.
Centre-back – Toto Nsiala, Shrewsbury
Nsiala’s outstanding season has been the base for Shrewsbury to launch an unlikely title bid. Nsiala joined after a torrid time in League Two with Hartlepool but his personal rejuvenation has been incredible. Powerful, pacey and determined, Nsiala is inspirational for a Shrews side who have 10 clean sheets to their name. Two vital goals, earning his side four points, have helped at the other end of the pitch too. Manager Hurst has described Nsiala’s form this season as ‘stunning’ and it’s hard to disagree.
Centre-back (Wigan) Dan Burn, Wigan Athletic
Given they have the best defensive record in the division, it would be remiss not to include a Wigan defender in the back four. Burn gets the nod over Reece James and Cheyenne Dunkley, his partners in Paul Cook’s back three, as he has become the Latics’ defensive leader. The 6ft 6ins 25-year-old is naturally a towering presence, but is also effective with the ball at his feet, beginning many of his side’s moves. Has helped Athletic to 15 clean sheets this term, including five in their last five games. With two goals too, Burn is in fine form.
Left-back – Conor Townsend, Scunthorpe
Townsend had a fine start to the season, establishing himself as Graham Alexander’s first-choice left-wing back. With the Iron beginning the campaign impressively, Townsend’s tenacity was earning rave reviews. An injury saw him have a spell on the sidelines, but he’s worked his way back into the side over the last two months and is increasingly influential. A fine set-piece taker makes him an attacking threat, and his willing runs means he is integral to a defensive effort that is the best outside of the top two. Also has three important goals to his name, too.
Right-wing – Hakeeb Adelakun, Scunthorpe
That Championship outfit Sunderland are reportedly preparing a £1 million bid for Adelakun speaks volumes for the youngster’s form. Adelakun has been a revelation for the Iron, and lies second in the assists chart with nine. The flying attacker – who also has four goals – started tentatively but has grown into the campaign as the Iron have ensconced themselves in the play-offs. Adelakun is pacey, direct and tricky and the North Lincolnshire outfit have a battle on their hands to keep him this month.
Centre-midfield – Bradley Dack, Blackburn Rovers
Dack’s nine goals from midfield have helped fire Rovers towards the top of the table as they aim for an immediate return to the Championship. Dack is scoring almost one every two games and has developed into Tony Mowbray’s key player. Mowbray insists the 24-year-old can play in the Premier League one day, so impressed has he been of a player who almost carried Gillingham to promotion from this level a couple of seasons ago. A player opposition supporters fear.
Centre-midfield – Ben Whiteman, Doncaster Rovers
In a side not scoring many, Whiteman has emerged as Rovers’ top scorer with six goals, earning 10 points for Donny, points without which they would be in deep relegation trouble. But Whiteman, on loan from Sheffield United, is more than a goalscorer. His all-action style has endeared him to home supporters, and made him a thorn in many an opposing side. The 21-year-old is highly sought-after following a successful loan with Mansfield Town too, last term. Manager Darren Ferguson may have a tough task keeping him for the rest of the season.
Left-wing – Marcus Maddison, Peterborough United
On his day, Maddison is the best player in the division. He is extremely gifted and capable of scoring regular goal of the season contenders. He’d walk into any side in the division and many in the Championship, too. This season, Maddison has been more selfless than before, becoming more of a team player. As a result, he is clear as the division’s leading assist maker with 13. Has also chipped in with six goals.
Striker – Jack Marriott, Peterborough United
If Posh are to deliver the promotion demanded of them by owner Darragh MacAnthony, then Marriott is likely to be the man to do it. He’s clear as the division’s top scorer with 17 already, but it’s the all-action nature of his performances that really stand out. A constant threat with his pace, Marriott sets the tempo for Posh by running himself into the ground and offering no peace to opposing defenders.
Striker – Eoin Doyle, Oldham Athletic
Since starring for Chesterfield between 2013 and 2015, Doyle has suffered a difficult period having failed to fire in the Championship with either Cardiff or Preston. But a loan to Oldham has revitalised him, and the Latics, too. Doyle has 12 goals in 17 League One games, which is the joint third best in the division. However, his strike rate is better than any of his rivals for the golden boot. Doyle’s goals have transformed Oldham’s season and given them a fighting chance of staying up. His loan expired on 1 January, and while the club is attempting to bring him back, it’s feared his form will see Doyle join a side higher up the division.