Goalkeeper: Mark Travers (Bournemouth) Made his mark on his Premier League debut against Tottenham three years ago and has established himself as Bournemouth’s no. 1 on the road to promotion. The 23-year-old has had an interesting 12 months. Last May, five years after scoring on his debut for Weymouth, he headed the equalizer in injury time at the Hampshire Seniors Cup and ended the season with the golden glove.
Centre-Back: Joe Worrall (Nottingham Forest) Captain. Leader. Legend? Worrall may have achieved that status even before he led Forest into the Premier League, wiping tears as he tried to put words to the performance at Wembley. Joined his youth club aged 14 and has long shown what it means to him to play for Forest, whether it’s to express his dislike of Derby or his party trick: going down to head the ball clear up. “We don’t mind suffering,” he said. “We suffered off the field for a long time.”
Central defender: Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn) The Republic of Ireland defender, who joined Blackburn from Dublin’s Belvedere in 2011, enjoyed what is arguably his best season yet at the heart of a three-man defence. Rovers ran out of breath as their playoff push faltered – they won three games after February – but Lenihan played more than his part as Rovers threatened to upset the expected order. Blackburn, who is off contract this summer, are in talks to extend the long-time centre-back’s stay.
Centre-Back: Lloyd Kelly (Bournemouth) It’s just as well that Bournemouth got over the line because in April Scott Parker declared Kelly – the Championship’s youngest captain – too good for the division. Eddie Howe knew he was getting a special talent when Kelly was signed from Bristol City in 2019, as several top-flight clubs have expressed interest and the athletic defender, who has also played at left-back, has found himself at home at centre-back. After a start-stop and an injury-plagued first season, Kelly is making up for lost time.
Right midfield: Djed Spence (Nottingham Forest) A key player in Forest’s turnaround. The Middlesbrough loanee excelled as a full-back and his galloping runs made him a key element in earning a call-up to England Under-21s. His release by Fulham in 2018 looks more enigmatic by the day. Boros Isaiah Jones, actually the reason Spence was allowed on loan, also played at right. “Trials and trials happen,” Spence said after the promotion. “You just have to keep going and work hard.”
Center Midfield: Lewis O’Brien (Huddersfield) Perhaps the best player in the playoff finals, it was fitting that O’Brien capped off a good season with another clean and stylish performance, even if it ended in defeat. At the height of Huddersfield’s promotion spurt, O’Brien’s momentum and panache propelled her into third place. Joined as U11 and signed a new long-term deal last September. O’Brien, a Manchester City season ticket holder, has earned high-profile admirers this season.
Center Midfield: Morgan Gibbs-White (Sheffield United) Showed class to record 12 goals and 10 assists on loan from Wolves, whose manager Bruno Lage has signed on to bring the attacking midfielder back into his squad for next season. Developed a good relationship with Billy Sharp, who benefited from Gibbs-White’s eye for a killer pass. The 22-year-old was pivotal in helping the Blades reach the playoffs, taking home Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season at Bramall Lane.
Left Midfield: Harry Toffolo (Huddersfield) Signed from Lincoln for £500,000 two years ago, he has blossomed under Carlos Corberán and proved a menace in a campaign that ended in play-off pain. Especially for Toffolo, who appeared to have been fouled in the penalty area only for referee Jon Moss to book him into the sim. Team-mate Sorba Thomas also shone, while Hull’s Keane Lewis-Potter and Blackpool’s Josh Bowler impressed, particularly against Fulham, who sacked him as a youngster.
Right wing: Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest) There are countless highlights for Johnson, whose searing pace and direct running have proved a nightmare for defense. He has been electrified since scoring his first Forest goal to clinch a point in the derby in August and his performance against Leicester in the FA Cup in February reflected the role of his protagonist. He has a flair for being in the right place at the right time, and his Sliderule passes and relationship with Spence helped Forest become a force.
Striker: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) Normally, Joel Piroe and Ben Brereton Díaz would have come on with a shot, but it’s impossible to look past Mitrovic’s record-breaking 43 goals in one game. Add his injury-time winner for Serbia in Porto to secure a place at the World Cup and it was a successful season. “He knows I’ll be asking more and more of him from tomorrow on,” said Marco Silva, Fulham manager. The Premier League is waiting.
Left Wing: Andi Weimann (Bristol City) The numbers speak for themselves. A return of 22 goals and 10 assists in a team that flattered, faked and flirted with relegation for most of the season is extraordinary. Even more notably, the former Aston Villa striker came into the season after undergoing surgery for an anterior cruciate ligament injury. A workaholic and a manager’s dream, Weimann has played everywhere from full-back to up front. Austria recall earned in March.
Coach: Steve Cooper (Nottingham Forest) Last week Jurgen Klopp seemed embarrassed to beat Cooper with the League Managers Association’s Manager of the Season award given the way the Welsh Forest transformed the club from bottom of the table to the Premier League in eight months led. Forest’s 20th permanent manager since 1999 has secured hero status. Corberán and Nathan Jones alike worked wonders in Huddersfield and Luton respectively.
Michael Cooper (Plymouth); Jack Whatmough (Wigan), Harry Darling (MK Dons), Michael Ihiekwe (Rotherham); Paddy Lane (Fleetwood), Barry Bannan (Sheffield Wednesday), Cameron Brannagan (Oxford), Callum Lang (Wigan); Scott Twine (MK Dons); Ross Stewart (Sunderland), Will Keane (Wigan).
Player of the Season: Scott Twine (MK Dons) No player has had more goals involved in the league than Twine (20 goals, 13 assists), who was still on loan at sixth tier side Chippenham Town in 2020. MK Dons paid Swindon £300,000 before a tribunal for the striker who has developed physically and honed his all-around game while retaining his penchant for a long-range shot or free-kick. Twine started on loan at Newport in the second division last season and seems destined to be promoted again.
Coach: Paul Warne (Rotherham) Perhaps the greatest compliment is that Warne have for so long made a third promotion in five seasons look relatively easy, even if they eventually squeaked across the finish line and had to settle for second place behind Wigan, whose manager Leam Richardson also deserves credit for dealing with the remainder of administration and ensuring an immediate return to the championship. Warne again recovered from the loss of key players in the final season and clinched the Papa John’s Trophy.
Jojo Wollacott (Swindon); Nathan Smith (Port Vale), Connor Taylor (Bristol Rovers), Pierce Sweeney (Exeter); Kane Wilson (Forest Green), Ebou Adams (Forest Green), Timothy Dieng (Exeter), Antony Evans (Bristol Rovers), Elliot Anderson (Bristol Rovers); Dominic Telford (Newport), Matty Stevens (Forest Green).
Player of the Season: Kane Wilson (Forest Green) The full-back was a constant threat on the right, ending with a league-best 13 assists shared. At times, Wilson actually acted as an extra forward for the division’s top scorers. The 22-year-old left youth club West Bromwich Albion without a league game but struck down roots in the Cotswolds after a string of loan spells two years ago. Has not looked back and a return to the pyramid beckons.
Managing Director: Rob Edwards (Forest Green; now with Watford) That Edwards will start next season at Watford speaks volumes for the work he has done in his first season as manager of the Football League, guiding Forest Green to the title and turning heads with alluring style. Matt Gray should finish a close second for guiding Sutton United to a playoff berth and a cup final in his first season in the Football League, while Darrell Clarke overcame personal tragedy to leave Port Vale over Wembley in to run League One.