TEAMtalk's Top 10: Championship stars

Thursday 19th January 2012 11:14

Zaha & Sordell: Leading lights in Championship

Zaha & Sordell: Leading lights in Championship

TEAMtalk's James Marshment presents his countdown of the 2011/12 Championship's top 10 players, proving there's life outside the top flight.

This time last year, I presented my Championship's top 10 players, 2011 - an interesting read if I do say so myself, given that seven of last season's select brand now ply their trade in the Premier League.

Twelve months on, England's second tier continues to boast a plethora of talent - all busting a gut to help their respected teams reach the promised land of the Premier League.

Use the story comments box below to let me know your thoughts and your top 10, but please note this is merely my own humble opinion, and I offer no apologies if your favourite doesn't quite make the cut.

10 - Peter Whittingham, Cardiff: It remains a bit of a mystery why a Premier League side has yet to take a punt on the former Aston Villa trainee, particularly given his record of 50 goals in 205 appearances for the Bluebirds.

Blessed with a wand of a left foot, Whittingham is one of the best free-kick takers outside the Premier League.

Linked with West Ham and West Brom this month, don't be altogether surprised to see a club finally prise the talented playmaker away from south Wales.

9 - Jacob Butterfield, Barnsley: But for a torn cruciate ligament injury sustained against Leeds on New Year's Eve, Butterfield may well have found himself at the centre of a Premier League tug of war this month.

Already the youngest ever captain in Barnsley's history, Butterfield is blessed with tremendous vision and is most comfortable when given a free role in midfield. Much in the same vein as fellow Bradford-born midfielder Tom Cleverley, Butterfield is probably the best thing to come out of Barnsley since coal!

8 - Rickie Lambert, Southampton: The Championship's current top scorer with 15 goals, Lambert has had a long and nomadic career that has seen him take in spells at Blackpool, Macclesfield, Stockport, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before finally landing at St Mary's.

At 29 years of age, his prospects of playing in the top flight look like finally being served by staying with Saints, where next season he will hope to emulate the likes of Robert Earnshaw and Brett Ormerod by scoring in all four divisions of the English game.

At 6ft 2ins and with a proven eye for goal, Lambert has been the country's top scorer in each of the last two seasons, while his tally this season is bettered only by Robin van Persie and prolific Huddersfield marksman Jordan Rhodes.

7 - Jay Rodriguez, Burnley: The son of former Deportivo La Coruna player, Kiko, Jay Enrique Rodriguez probably owes his footballing talents to his Spanish lineage as opposed to his eastern Lancashire upbringing.

That said, the England Under-21 forward has improved season on season since making his debut just over five years ago and this term boasts 14 goals in 31 games for the Clarets.

A deep-lying forward much in the Wayne Rooney mould, the Clarets will find it increasingly difficult to hang on to the player if his form continues to improve at its current rate.

6 - Billy Sharp, Doncaster: Arguably the most in-demand player in the second tier, Sharp will most certainly not still be with Donny come the end of the January transfer window.

Eyebrows were raised when the South Yorkshire side swooped to sign him for just over £1million in the summer of 2010 following a successful loan. But his haul of 40 goals in 81 league games - for a side who have largely struggled, I might add - tells it's own story.

Linked with a string of clubs this month, Sharp has already snubbed a move to Leicester as he holds out for the Premier League move his talent certainly deserves.

5 - Adam Lallana, Southampton: After helping Saints to promotion last term with a string of impressive displays, the 23-year-old midfielder has really come of age this season.

An all-action performer and a true class act, Lallana has already contributed six goals and seven assists in 17 league games this term as he looks to help Saints achieve back-to-back promotions.

Rated as the best player he'd faced this season by Jonny Howson when I spoke to him in November - high praise indeed given the Leeds-born midfielder is seemingly Premier League-bound himself with Norwich.

4 - Nicky Maynard, Bristol City: At the time of writing, seven Premier League clubs have been credited with an interest in Maynard, with his departure from Ashton Gate now looking a formality rather than a possibility.

The striker - yet another to come off the Crewe production line - has not been at his prolific best since this season, though much of that might owe to the Robins' early struggles at the wrong end of the table.

Capable of scoring both the spectacular goal and having that happy knack of being in the right place at the right time for the simple ones, it is Maynard's all-round game that marks him out as one of the Championship's most in-demand players.

3 - Robert Snodgrass, Leeds: The only player from last year's top 10 to retain a place in this year's quota, Snodgrass has since gone on to become a regular in Craig Levein's Scotland squads, winning his first cap in February of last year and scoring his first goal against Denmark in August.

Equally comfortable with either foot, and capable of playing anywhere across the midfield, Snodgrass is probably the last remaining 'Crown Jewell' on Leeds' books having been valued at £7million last summer when Norwich came sniffing.

2 - Marvin Sordell, Watford: Probably the most talented player since Ashley Young to come off the Hornets' production line, Sordell has already been recognised at international level by winning six caps for England Under-21s. Fast, direct and with a real eye for goal, Sordell has already been the subject of interest from Tottenham, and it would come of no surprise to see Harry Redknapp follow up his initial interest with a firm bid.

Absolute top quality and a future full international.

1 - Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace: Perhaps a controversial choice for top spot, Zaha is one of the most talented players I have ever seen outside the Premier League.

Zaha is already on the radar of Manchester United and Arsenal - a fact the Eagles have been quick to be wary of by placing a £10million price tag on his head. Comfortable as a winger or a second striker, Zaha has brilliantly-fast feet and has already drawn comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo.

Could really come to the attention of the public if Palace reach next month's Carling Cup final, but must work on his goals output as just three so far in his Palace career hardly rates as prolific.

That said, easily the division's top talent and in my eyes, a worthy selection as Number One.

Unfortunate not to make the cut: Mark Noble, Robert Koren, Nathan Redmond, James Tomkins, Jonathan Williams, Jimmy Kebe, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Craig Noone, Grant McCann, Craig Mackail-Smith.



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