Despite having everything still to play for, the voting for Player of the Year will soon begin in earnest. There aren’t too many home games left to get fans to fill in the slips of paper, and unlike most seasons recently, we could see anyone one of five or six players win the award.
Bradley Wood cleaned up last year for his all-action displays at right back, but this season is going to be very different. I’d wager that the awards will be split across different players rather than one man taking home the lot. I’m going to focus on the main prize, Player of the Year. Over the next six days I’ll be looking at the six players that I believe will be in with a shout, and rating their chances of lifting the coveted prize on the field before the Macclesfield game.
So who will join the illustrious list of previous winners that includes such legends as Kevin Austin (1998), Simon Yeo (2005) and *ahem* Scott Kerr (2009)? Can Paul Farman or Bradley Wood join Sam Ellis (1976, 1977), Trevor Peake (1980, 1981) and Gareth Ainsworth (1996, 1997) in becoming two-time winners?
First up on my short list of favourites for the role is the captain himself, Luke Waterfall. If there was a ‘most improved player’ then there is no doubt the colossus at the back would walk away with it. After arriving from Wrexham it took him a while to settle in, and towards the end of 2015/16 season he found himself out of favour, replaced by veteran Jamie McCombe and Chris Bush. When Danny Cowley arrived in the summer I for one thought that Luke would be on his way.
It wasn’t that he was a bad player last season, but we leaked goals and that is never good for a centre half. For almost a decade one of the problems we’ve had to contend with as a team is a weak defence, breached too often and with far too much ease by opposition strikers. Despite the strides made on the pitch last season, we still couldn’t defend and we conceded far too many goals to challenge for the play-offs. When Sean Raggett signed from Dover I thought it pushed Luke further down the pecking order.
I am delighted that I was wrong. Ever since the opening day our no-nonsense rock at the back has been growing in stature and confidence. He’s been heading bricks back alongside Sean since the 6-1 win over North Ferriby, and not since the days of McAuley and McCombe or Morgan and Futcher have we looked so assured and solid at the back. Danny said that his first task was to stop the side leaking goals, but nobody imagined the cornerstone of that change was already in the squad.
It isn’t just that he has bagged a first team spot and kept it, it is his role as captain and leader that has iced the cake. From watching us lose heavily at Dover in mid-2016 to leading the side to wins against Tranmere and Forest Green just a few months later. He’s fearless, rock solid and is a natural leader of men. I imagine his job as captain is made easier by the fact we have such great team spirit, but that sort of atmosphere is a reflection on the leaders, managers, captains and indeed all the senior players.
Luke has missed just one league game all season, the 1-0 defeat at Dagenham way back in August, and for that consistency alone I think he is in the running for Player of the Year. He even picked up a National League Player of the Month award as well, justified recognition for his outstanding displays. If you factor in the crucial goals he has scored then he has even more chance of picking up the prize, and finally a sprinkling of ‘on the pitch leader’ makes him one of the favourites to pick up a trophy. I’d wager if he doesn’t get the main award due to the other outstanding candidates, then he may still need to clear a space for the ‘away’ Player of the Season.
It is so hard trying to pick defining moments for a centre half, especially as we still have crucial games ahead of us, but here are three reasons why you should consider voting for Luke Waterfall as Player of the Year.
Forest Green (A)
2-1 down with just moments remaining, and Lincoln looked to be slipping 12 points behind FGR in the race for the title. We needed a moment of inspiration, we needed our big players to step up to the plate. A throw in was flicked on smartly by Rheady, and there was Luke Waterfall to catch the ball on the volley and make it 2-2. Minutes later Sean Raggett stole the headlines, but the controlled and emphatic finish from the captain made the reversal possible. It was a wonderful two minutes of the season, and one that will stick in my mind for years to come.
City were 1-0 up and cruising against a lacklustre Wrexham side, when just on the half hour mark Sean Raggett was shown a harsh red card for a studs up challenge. For the first time we got to see the side the Danny built in a proper scrap, and the captain had to show what he was made of. Wrexham pushed forward but leading by example, Luke Waterfall had a wonderful game. Callum Howe came on to form a defensive partnership that just months before had leaked goals like a sieve leaks water, but he slotted in next to Luke wonderfully. Luke Waterfall was resolute, strong and displayed the never-say-die attitude that we have come to love him for.
North Ferriby (A)
It might be remiss of me to pick another goal as there is so much more to his game, but having come from the relative majesty of Turf Moor to the relatively amateur surroundings of North Ferriby in just three days was a real test of our credentials. It wasn’t an easy game, nor was it pretty but it was Luke Waterfall who nodded us to a 1-0 win. The was no ‘after the Lord Mayors show’, there was no FA Cup hangover, just Lincoln City doing the job they needed to do. Other teams might have faltered, other teams might have let the big occasion loud their concentration. Not us, and not our captain. Immediately after the Burnley win he was on television saying ‘we focus on North Ferriby’, and that was exactly what he did.
Tomorrow: We move on to Luke’s defensive partner and fellow colossus, Sean Raggett.
Photos by Graham Burrell