The Midlander: Best and worst of 2011

Monty and Mad Dog”s thirst for success and CSI Aston Villa – it must be time for my 2011 awards

It”s that time of year again…when the Midlander looks back to the best, the worst and the (sometime) amusing moments in 2011 from the heart of the English football scene…..

Best performance of the year: Birmingham City, Carling Cup final. That script could not have been written any better, could it

Wolves” derby defeat of West Brom, given the circumstances, earns them second spot.

Final fling: Birmingham celebrated after winning the Carling Cup at Wembley

Final fling: Birmingham celebrated after winning the Carling Cup at Wembley

Worst performance of the year: Birmingham City at home to Fulham, penultimate game of the season.

Aston Villa”s capitulation to Liverpool was equally gutless last week but there wasn”t as much at stake.

I have to say I worried for Nigel Clough following Doncaster”s victory at Pride Park back in March. I”m glad to see he”s come through it.

Best decision by an owner (part 1): Jeremy Peace (West Brom) is frighteningly ruthless and, on the face of it, he dispensed with Roberto Di Matteo in double-quick time. Replacing him with Roy Hodgson was a masterstroke. The club and manager appear to dovetail nicely.

Best decision by an owner (part 2): Randy Lerner allowing Gerard Houllier to spend 24m on Darren Bent in order to safeguard Villa”s status in the Barclays Premier League. Relegation worries were very real at Villa Park last term, believe me.

Worst decision by an owner: Nigel Doughty”s mixed messages at Forest. Steve McClaren was backed, or wasn”t he Offering Premier League wages to players like Ishmael Miller, Jonathan Greening and Andy Reid before pulling up the gangplank smacks of indecision and inconsistency. No wonder that club is in such a mess.

Most inexplicable decision by an owner: Randy Lerner, Alex McLeish. I”m still trying to find the logic in the face of such vehement opposition.

Best player of this calendar year: One for the strikers. Darren Bent and Peter Odemwingie have both scored goals but Villa and the Baggies respectively might still have escaped relegation had they not.

I worry that Wolves don”t have enough goals in them. So, step forward, Steven Fletcher, who proved the difference in the run-in last term. He has continued in the same vein so far this season, too.

Great Scot: Steven Fletcher has been banging the goals in for Wolves

Great Scot: Steven Fletcher has been banging the goals in for Wolves

Best signing: Shane Long at West Brom. He will prove to be. Mark my words.

Best match: Wolves 3 Tottenham 3 (March 2011) Mick McCarthy”s brand of “never-say-die” football meets silky Spurs. Fantastic entertainment.

Most promising young player: There”s quite a few candidates for this. Derby County”s Jeff Hendrick is one who is causing a few murmurings.

Over at St Andrew”s, Jordan Mutch started the season well before he broke an ankle.

Jeffrey Schlupp at Leicester has earned one or two admiring glances too.

I”ve liked Ciaran Clark at Villa since his assured debut against Fulham the season before last.

And I think Chris Herd has a future at right-back for Villa, rather than in midfield.

However, I”m just going to plump for Jack Butland. He”s not had a first-team run-out yet for Birmingham City but two dozen scouts from the Premier League and Championship do not turn up at Cheltenham Town regularly for nothing.

A firm of bookmakers has made him 12-1 to travel with England to the European Championships too. Given the current state of affairs at St Andrew”s, he might have to make his name elsewhere, mind you.

Jack the lad: Young goalkeeper Butland is tipped for a bright future

Jack the lad: Young goalkeeper Butland is tipped for a bright future

Most amusing moment (1): New Magpies boss Martin Allen asking for one of Notts County”s staff to fetch a drink for his labrador, Monty. That elicited the question: “What does he drink” There then followed the stoney-faced answer: “Orange juice and lemonde.”

Yes, you can guess the rest. The bowl duly re-appeared with orange liquid in it…

Most amusing moment (2): Walking through Birmingham”s Christmas market three weeks ago, minding my own business when, from behind, someone tipped a two-litre glass of lager over my head. Lee Hughes almost soiled himself, tossed 20 towards me and said: “That”s for the dry cleaning.”

The response, as you would expect, was unprintable. For the record, I tossed the money back at him – once he had bought me a proper drink.

Most amusing moment (3): Asking Alex McLeish who would play him in a film of his life and him replying: “David Caruso” (from CSI Miami) with a straight face.

Alex McLeish David Caruso

You never see them together: /12/29/article-2079905-0F4BA9EC00000578-697_468x304.jpg” width=”468″ height=”304″ alt=”Straight-faced: Notts County boss Martin “Mad Dog” Allen wanted a drink for Monty” class=”blkBorder” />

Straight-faced: Notts County boss Martin “Mad Dog” Allen wanted a drink for Monty

More from Neil Moxley…

The Midlander: So, who should Villa plump for in the January sales
23/12/11

The Midlander: How the Sky Blues have come crashing down since THAT magical FA Cup win in 1987
16/12/11

The Midlander: Is N”Zogbia following the path of crazy Curcic
08/12/11

The Midlander: The secret to success Reid, Moore and Agbonlahor all have different stories
01/12/11

The Midlander: Case for the defence crumbles as McLeish bids to stave off backlash
25/11/11

The Midlander: Pearson”s back in familiar surroundings but it”s all change for returning boss at Leicester
17/11/11

The Midlander: Wolves hierachy can stand behind McCarthy, but they don”t hold the aces
04/11/11

The Midlander: The solution to Coventry”s financial woe Kissing frogs!
19/10/11

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Nice to see you back: Nigel Pearson at Leicester City. Did a fabulous job first time around and will need a couple of months to sort out what he wants at the King Power Stadium.

Might have left himself too much to do to reach the top two, but he is a leader of men. I know it”s a precious commodity, but he needs some time.

Stories I don”t want to write this year: Coventry City back in the third tier of English football…

Nottingham Forest back in the third tier of English football…

Birmingham City go into administration….

Stories I may end up writing this year: See above.

Stories I want to write: Coventry City taken over by billionaire oil-sheik who promises the most grateful set of supporters in the Midlands a few days” happiness instead of continual misery.

I”d love to see the Clough name back in the top flight, too.

Stories I don”t think I”ll write (but you never know): Aston Villa fans chant Alex McLeish”s name.

Best set of supporters: I raise my cap to all those who support Midlands teams. It ain”t easy around here.

Special mention to Derby County, though. Thirty-three thousand against Leeds when they are mid-table in the Championship I”d struggle to see any other club on this patch pull in that many in a similar position. I include Villa in that.

Least-communicative club: Birmingham City. Any chance that someone in power could tell the supporters what”s really going on Please That”s no slight on the PR team at St Andrew”s, either. Just a statement of fact.

Most helpful boss: Most of them will help, within reason. I can”t, however, include Steve Cotterill because I don”t really know him yet but I”ve got to mention Mick McCarthy in this.

He enjoys the verbal jousting and you rarely get through a press conference without the Wolves boss finding something to laugh at. It”s usually Rob Dorsett from Sky. Which, believe me, is fair enough.

Swede dreams turned into a nightmare: Leicester sacked Sven-Goran Eriksson

Swede dreams turned into a nightmare: Leicester sacked Sven-Goran Eriksson

Personal highlight: Spending 30 minutes before the Carling Cup final going through the highlights of Alex McLeish”s career and hearing a few stories about Sir Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen.

And asking Mick McCarthy a set of questions for our “Top Secret” column. His candour was enlightening, entertaining and his typically-earthy answers endearing.

This isn”t meant to be taken too seriously, so thanks for taking the trouble to read and thanks to those who follow me on Twitter too. Have a great New Year…